Poor Jeremy Renner. It was only a few years ago that the talented actor appeared poised to inherit two of cinema’s three preeminent spy franchises. (As an American, he’s fundamentally ineligible for Bond-hood.) First, his casting in a supporting role in 2011’s Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol was widely seen as a prelude to Tom Cruise passing him the torch for subsequent installments. But Cruise decided to stick around, relegating Renner to second banana. Then he was granted the lead in the 2012 semi-reboot The Bourne Legacy—only to have Matt Damon come back to reclaim the franchise in Jason Bourne.
Or perhaps a better term would be repeat the franchise. The premise driving the original trilogy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) had been the effort by the amnesiac assassin Bourne (Damon) to discover his own true identity and find out how he had been turned into a human weapon—goals that he had pretty much accomplished by the end of the third installment. Indeed, the new movie opens with Bourne explaining, “ I remember, I remember everything.”
Which poses the question: What do you get the forgetful superspy who already has his memory back? The somewhat unfortunate answer is another mystery from his past, this one involving his father, a CIA operative apparently killed by terrorists when Bourne was a young man, but who actually ...
Well, obviously I’m not going to tell, and I probably don’t have to. Suffice to say we learn from the start that his father, too, was involved in Treadstone, the secret program that produced Bourne himself. So Bourne must again delve into his past, surrounded by a cast of exceedingly familiar types: Tommy Lee Jones in the Chris Cooper/Brian Cox /David Straithairn role of nefarious middle-aged male intelligence chief; Alicia Vikander in the Joan Allen role of female CIA subordinate who comes to believe that Bourne’s a good guy; Vincent Cassel in the Clive Owen/Karl Urban/Édgar Ramírez role of opposing assassin; and Julia Stiles reprising her own Julia Stiles role.
The film makes some vague stabs at contemporary relevance by bringing in a Julian-Assange-type figure (Vinzenz Kiefer) and a young tech billionaire (Riz Ahmed) in uneasy affiliation with the CIA. But otherwise the movie feels like the work of a capable but uninspired cover band. Before we had Treadstone; now we have re-Treadstone.
Which is not to say that the film is without its moments. Damon is as magnetic as ever, even if he’s operating with considerably thinner material. And the director Paul Greengrass—who returns after helming the franchise’s second and third installments—brings his patented brand of shaky-cam vérité to the proceedings. The scenery is lovely, as the film hops from Greece to Iceland to Rome to Berlin to Las Vegas. And the action sequences are customarily intense, if at times only lightly tethered to any particular plot function. In particular, the final pursuit scene in Vegas is an encomium to excess, perhaps finally stealing The Blues Brothers’ long-held crown for vehicular mayhem. (Yes, Bourne’s 32 “confirmed kills” no doubt weigh heavily on his conscience; but what of the scores of innocent Nevadans who presumably died behind the wheel during this chase?)
Despite its flaws, Jason Bourne is a perfectly adequate summer diversion. Just don’t judge it by the exceptional standards of Damon’s earlier trilogy. Sometimes it really is better not to remember.