Jason Bourne

Following a nine-year absence, Matt Damon once again teams up with director Paul Greengrass for another Jason Bourne thriller. Bourne has spent years in isolation, appearing in public as often as Bigfoot. Once Central Intelligence officials spot him on a surveillance mission and notice his name on a stolen file, it’s a matter of minutes before Bourne’s self imposed seclusion comes toppling down.

Last week’s cheerful, far better “Star Trek Beyond” also coasted too much on familiarity. Its especially disappointing to see Greengrass, the director of the most acclaimed Bourne entries, as well as his recent “Captain Phillips” triumph, come up so dry. Damon’s reuniting with Greengrass promised big things but winds up yet another cinematic summer bummer. Damon is always compelling as this character and there’s great stunt work but this is a routine, unsatisfying entry.

They should have titled this The Bourne Contingency, since that is what this franchise is to Universal Pictures. The exciting, pulpy, Damon-less, Jeremy Renner-starring “The Bourne Legacy” is swept under the rug. Rather than toss out the perfectly enjoyable (but unloved) series stretch from 2011, the studio should have merged the films. Vincent Cassell appears here as the one-note villain with a personal connection to Bourne. A juicier, smarter screenplay would have pitted Bourne against Renner’s Aaron Cross.

A subplot with great potential that goes nowhere features a Mark Zuckerberg-like website creator (played by Riz Ahmed) with a dubious connection to the CIA. There’s also Alicia Vikander, the recent Oscar winner for “The Danish Girl,” who gives an alarmingly robotic performance (she was more lifelike in “Ex Machina”). Series regular Julia Stiles is on hand early, offering some exposition to jump start the plot and vanishes shortly after. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones fills in for Chris Cooper as the elderly, well attired CIA Director out for Bourne. It would have been more interesting to just have him play U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard again (“I want you to find Bourne! Check every in-house, out house and dog house! We have a fugitive!”).

Damon has become an accomplished actor with such a strong presence, some of the best moments are when the camera lingers on his haunted, weathered face. Bourne is no longer youthful but genuinely appears to have lived a life that stripped him of joy and promise.

The key line uttered is “Privacy is freedom.” Indeed, Bourne’s living off the grid has given him anonymity, though it would have been nice to know why he makes a living as a fighter in underground matches. No explanation is given for his “Rambo III” existence.

Not only does “Jason Bourne” fail to top “The Bourne Ultimatum” in any meaningful way, it can’t compete with the satisfying closure the trilogy capper provided the character and the story. Pursuing the character’s origins and true identity raises more questions for fans to get worked up about. Still, much of what arises should have remained a mystery. A pivotal new character (which I won’t reveal), played by a well-cast Gregg Henry, offers mild intrigue but this is one of several plot lines that aren’t given enough focus.

All the globe-trotting, fighting, chasing, ground pursuits and pontificating on Bourne’s whereabouts feel overly familiar. Oddly enough, the only Bourne movie staple that gets a real upgrade is Moby’s “Extreme Ways.” You read that right: the end credits song is the lone Bourne franchise element that comes out new and improved.

While it initially seems to be a stand-alone film, the closing scenes promise a potential sequel, if not another trilogy. As long as Damon is present, I’m in. Let’s hope it’s a big step up because this is easily the least engaging installment of an otherwise engrossing film series.

Two stars

originally published in Maui Time Weekly