‘Jason Bourne’: A welcome return for Matt Damon’s spirited spy
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What with all their international adventures through the years, it seems like only a matter of time before Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt cross paths, whether it be in a crowded town square in Greece or a winding boulevard in Paris — or maybe while the two of them happen to be involved in crazy high-speed chases at the same time.
Hey man. What are YOU doing here?
Just as Tom Cruise continues to carry the “Mission: Impossible” action franchise in his 50s, the 45-year-old Matt Damon still kicks butt in serious fashion in his fourth appearance (and first since 2007) as Jason Bourne in the film of the same name.
Reteaming with “Bourne Supremacy” and “Bourne Ultimatum” director Paul Greengrass, Damon’s first impressive feat is wiping our memories clean of “The Bourne Legacy” with Jeremy Renner, which was to the “Bourne” series was George Lazenby was to the Bond films.
In “Jason Bourne,” our man Jason knows who he is — but he doesn’t really know who he is. The guy is still in need of some serious therapy but he’s way way WAY off the grid, coping with migraine-inducing flashbacks and carving out a living as a bare-knuckled street fighter in dusty outposts. (Suffice to say Jason doesn’t have a Twitter or Snapchat account.)
But just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in!
The always excellent Julia Stiles returns as Jason’s back-in-the-day ally Nicky Parsons, who is now working with an Edward Snowden-like hacker to expose the CIA’s most covert and in some cases most sinister black-ops programs.
When Nicky breaches the CIA’s system and learns a shocking secret about Jason’s past, she tracks him down in Greece, and they rendezvous in the middle of a political revolt.
Few directors in the world can match Greengrass’ ability to stage and shoot action scenes such as the breathtaking, chaotic sequence in Greece, as teams of CIA operatives and a lone contract assassin known as “The Asset” (a chillingly effective Vincent Cassel) hunt down Nicky and Jason amidst the madness of a full-scale riot. It’s action filmmaking at its finest.
Tommy Lee Jones does his world-weary, smartest-guy-in-the-room thing as CIA director Robert Dewey, a coldly pragmatic and morally bankrupt S.O.B. who wouldn’t know a moment of self-doubt if it splashed him in the face. (It’s one of Jones’ best performances in recent years.)
Dewey’s reaction to the first Jason Bourne sighting in years is simple: Kill him.
Good luck with that, Dewey.
Newly minted Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) plays Heather Lee, a brilliant and ambitious techno analyst with the CIA who argues in favor of bringing Jason home instead of taking him out. She thinks she’s playing Dewey, Dewey thinks he’s playing her, and everybody keeps underestimating Jason, which seems pretty stupid considering his track record.
Even if you’ve seen all the “Bourne” films, there are times when matters get muddled. Riz Ahmed does fine work as the billionaire founder of a Facebook-like social media company in bed with the government, but every time we take a detour into that subplot, it means another few minutes of “Jason Bourne” without Jason Bourne. The flashback sequences involving Jason and his father (Gregg Henry) are a bit simplistic and overwrought. And once in a while, the action screeches to a halt so characters can explain what’s happening.
Still. “Jason Bourne” is the best action thriller of the year so far, with a half-dozen terrific chase sequences and fight scenes. At one point the action swings to Vegas, and while some of what transpires is almost cartoonishly over-the-top, it’s great fun.
Damon is outstanding as the tightly wound, perpetually restless and conflicted Jason Bourne, who is practically a superhero when it comes to fighting but is utterly lost the rest of the time. Vikander is faced with a tough challenge, as the Heather character has to shoot out line after line of technical jargon and act as a kind of interpreter to the audience, explaining how the CIA can track Jason. And, like Stiles’ Nicky, Heather is a patriot who isn’t entirely convinced Jason is a traitor. Strong work by Vikander.
“Jason Bourne” doesn’t have the fresh kick of the first “Bourne” film from nearly a decade and a half ago — but Damon is a more accomplished actor than he was in 2002, and the more we know about this character, the more we feel for him, and it’s a damn treat to see him again after all these years.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Paul Greengrass and written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse. Running time: 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.