Ah, Jason Bourne (2016), so good to have you back.
I cheer at the return of the signature Greengrass freneticism, six different camera angles in six seconds driving the sense of action and urgency, and lapped up all the obligatory mayhem we’ve come to expect from JB. While the death arena-style car chases are maybe getting a little old — I found myself drifting towards my laptop during the biblically epic David (Chrysler Dodge) versus Goliath (armoured SWAT truck) battle — thankfully that scene very quickly morphed into typically inventive hand-to-hand combat between The Asset and JB. While it’s possible they both used stunt-doubles, I’d like to think it really was a fighting-fit Matt Damon (45), against an equally impressive Vincent Cassel (50). To his armoury of improvised yet very killy weaponry (the pen, the rolled-up newspaper, the toilet-bowl) Jason can now add a battered old tea-kettle.
But firstly, let us pay proper respect and mourn the passing of Nicolette Parsons. To my mind, almost as central to the Bourne canon as the titular protagonist himself, to me, there’s a certain ageist cynicism in the decision to snuff our beloved CIA analyst Nicky, played by Julia Stiles (35), and replace her with CIA analyst Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander (28). Mind you, speaking of ageism, Julia was only 21 in The Bourne Identity (2002), so the hunger for a pretty female lead is hardly a new thing. And undermining my theory is the fact that the series has proven older women, such as Joan Allen as Pamela Landy in The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2012) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), are still cast. But she did have to die, because the world of Nicky Parsons 2002 is not the world Heather Lee inherits in 2016. And while I like the segue, that’s all all the film really is — a segue to the present.
At a time when reality makes a pauper of fiction, Paul Greengrass either cheered or cringed when depicting news-reel realistic anti-government rioting in Athens as mere cover for JB’s latest shenanigans. The verisimilitude of the Greek riots almost distracts from the silliness of the yet-more CIA skulduggery. Without getting too thinky about it, running through that crowd, JB is Everyman on the same allegorical pilgrimage to seek meaning and a reckoning for his life. Still world-hopping with impunity on 20 year-old passports, it was a nice nod to global paranoia that Heather Lee had to massage the US Customs database to let him back into the States. The expression on JB’s face when the official said ‘Welcome home’ was epiphanic. Matt Damon is a thinking-man’s actor. He’s been living in JB’s skin for 15 years.
But what, for me, made this the best installment in the Bourne oeuvre since the original was the final scene where Heather Lee reveals her true nature. Until then, I wasn’t persuaded by Vikander at all. Sweden is cold, and there’s a chilly permafrost quality to the actor’s face I don’t like: if she suddenly smiled, I reckon we’d all scream and back the fu*k off. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we get the scowl of an upstart 28 year old who realises she’s been outwitted by An Older Person. The arrogance of youth pervades this film — not just because it is actually scripted — but because of its over-reliance on a technology so fantastical that it almost is a fantasy, the magical key to which apparently rests solely in the hands of the twentysomethings smug in the assumption that they’re about to inherit the Earth. That scene, where JB outwits the upstart CIA analyst, proves it won’t happen without a fight, notwithstanding the casualties.
I like this film a lot. Greengrass can’t help himself, and maybe the film is lacking in new plot directions, and maybe the Snowden-era references were overdone, but he’s succeeded in dragging this series firmly into the now. There has to be a sequel, which makes me very happy, but I for one hope it can develop away from the tired-old CIA intrigues to give JB some closure.
Not every girl he likes should end up with a bullet in the head.