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Chasin' Bourne

Matt Damon vs. the law of diminishing returns


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Matt Damon had already achieved some measure of success by the time "The Bourne Identity" was released in 2002, but it definitely bumped him from actor to movie star. "Good Will Hunting" (1997) put him on the map. "Dogma" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" gave him cred, and "Oceans Eleven" made him "Hollywood," but "Bourne" gave him something entirely different.

Based on the series of novels by Robert Ludlum and directed by Doug Liman, "The Bourne Identity" hit at the perfect time. Damon might have seemed a bit baby-faced to play an amnesiac spy searching for the truth about his past, but he brought a much-needed gravitas to the role.

"Identity," "Supremacy" and "Ultimatum" all tell the story of Jason Bourne as he brings down government super soldier programs Treadstone and Blackbriar. Bourne would face off against different villains that always served the same purpose: to attempt to use him as a weapon. By the end of "Ultimatum," Bourne had his memory back and justice had been served, leaving the series with few story avenues to explore.

"Bourne Legacy" (2012) tried reshaping the wheel a little by throwing a new character (Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner) into the cinematic universe. Even with the new character and setting, "Legacy" still felt too beholden to what came before to feel like a sequel, reboot or reinvention. It didn't continue the story from the original trilogy in an interesting way or strike out far enough on its own path to be something fresh.

"Jason Bourne" brings back Damon and "Supremacy" and "Ultimatum" director Paul Greengrass, but to diminishing returns. This is the first Bourne film without Tony Gilroy handling scripting duties, and the loss is immediately felt. Greengrass is still a propulsive and dynamic filmmaker, but the story lacks the urgency that kept the other films so intense.

Bourne is now living in Greece and competing in illegal fighting rings for money. Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacks the CIA and is preparing to expose their black ops operations when she finds information about Bourne's father. Parsons and Bourne team up to bring down the CIA (again?) and get some good old-fashioned revenge.

This would be fine except we have no connection to Bourne's father and we've seen Bourne bring down the CIA blacks ops programs a few times now. Without that attachment to the story, all we're left with is a couple of amazing action sequences and a few interesting performances. The first act sees Bourne and Parsons speeding through Athens during a massive riot with Molotov cocktails exploding all around them, and the third act features a car chase down the Las Vegas strip. They're great scenes, but they don't reach the heights of the motorcycle chase to foot chase to fist fight through Tangier in "Ultimatum."

While the film pays lip service to Snowden and has a government surveillance subplot, it all feels in service to a story we have no connection to. The film is typically fast-paced and entertaining to watch, but it lacks the intensity and urgency that kept the series so fresh. Instead it feels like the American Bond series has become a shadow of its former self, happy to rehash the good old days instead of treading new ground.

Damon's face is harder now and older, his gaze more haunted. His performance is his best outing yet as Bourne and even though "Jason Bourne" isn't the best of the series, I'd still watch a dozen more Bourne movies. There's life in the franchise even if there isn't much in the movie itself.

"Jason Bourne"

Dir. Paul Greengrass


Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX

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