At first I superficially liked it, until I actually had real reasons to like it. Jason Bourne, while to a skeptic may be a gratuitous sequel, is reason to be excited to go the movies again (Granted, there are less skeptics than there are die-hard fans). Some people can’t take the visual whiplash, yet the director, Paul Greengrass (who helmed “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”), is to me a wizard at compacting it into kinetic logic. It has a scary urgency, a madness to its method. And what’s not to like about a series that sticks to human stunts, crashing metal with 170 cars wrecked in this movie, and extras in the background played by people and not pixels? I’ve had it with special effects created entirely by computers, I rejoice when I am watching action done by thoroughbred actors.
This is also one of the rare cases when a fourth movie in a series can be a rehash and still work – Jason (Matt Damon), the former Black Ops assassin turned fugitive, is wanted dead by the CIA again. This time the movie sprinkles in new topicality (global surveillance collected through cell phones and laptops), unveils a few fresh new faces, and achieves when it intends to do – it entertains the pants off you.
Sure, some implausibility taints the overall experience this time. Damon knuckle brawls with some beefy foreigners in dirty rings for money just like Stallone did in “Rambo III.” Greengrass does what he can to strip the clichés from it. But that’s just prologue.
Julia Stiles shows up again as Nicky Parsons, a former CIA analyst, who says she has more comprehensive information of Jason’s past on an encryption disc. “You’ve tortured yourself a long time. You need to read those files,” she says, although it’s really her that’s been fretting over Jason over the course of fourteen years. (The safest thing Jason could have done in the movie is told Nicky to bugger off.) The two meet in person in Athens during an immigrants protest rally that spirals into a full-blown riot. It’s a dazzling and dizzying kaleidoscope of everyday violence, very much a sequence that the filmmaker wanted to exploit for its cinematic possibilities. You might wonder why Jason and Nicky didn’t meet during non-riot hours, but it’s also the kind of voyeuristic interest into riot pandemonium that makes the “Bourne” movies so watchable in the first place.
A bigger carp could be seeing Alicia Vikander (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”), too pretty and dainty to be this brilliant CIA disc jockey, whose character is also going after a CIA Director position. Not believable. She is a fine, and serious, young actress but she has been chosen because she’s a current box office draw. In my mind, she was last year’s best supporting actress for “Ex Machina,” so I can be smitten by her under the right circumstances.
The current CIA Director is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who if memory serves correct has replaced Brian Cox and David Straithairn, and whomever else through the series. Jones has such implacable authority when taking on a role like this, that we simply relish his intelligence, and even the grouchiness that goes with it. He’s so humorless that he’s humorous.
Vincent Cassell plays an assassin on Jason’s tail, and you do wish he had more illuminating dialogue to work with, but his menacing dead-eyed stare, his tunnel-vision killer instinct, is compelling to behold. Ultimately, his actions don’t entirely make sense. He commandeers a SWAT vehicle in Vegas, pummeling through the streets with Jason tailing him in a Dodge Charger – it’s not the most believable action scene if you know the main Vegas boulevards are stymied by snail traffic – but again, it’s real metal, real drivers, real sweat in this movie.
The final main player is Riz Ahmed (a fine young actor from “Trishna,” “Four Lions”) as a megastar CEO of a social media company called Deep Dream, where he promises the public that his apps will honor privacy rights, but is really in cahoots with the CIA that wants to tap all private user information as a way of maximizing global surveillance power. I still prefer the sincere promise of the upcoming movie “Snowden” to more directly deal about this very essential, and troubling, issue – a movie like that should be the real wake-up call about the private information gathering that’s circumventing our world. But “Jason Bourne,” with its sensationalized issue-raising, knocks our heads around a little bit by bringing some of this up (it mentions and critiques Snowden), and knocks our eyeballs around in the process, too. For fun.
123 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION-SUSPENSE / THINKING TEENS / FRIDAY NIGHT THRILL RIDE
Film Cousins: “Rambo III” (1988); “The Bourne Identity” (2002); “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004); “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007).