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The Empty Store Problem: The Familiar Story of “Jason Bourne”

Add another “L” to the campaign of sadness that is The Year of Movies: 2016 Edition.  Once again, a film has been released in an attempt o revive and further a long-dormant franchise, and like seemingly every cheap cash-in of this year, Jason Bourne fails to elicit any emotion beyond longing for the original property which it is based upon.  This isn’t to say that there are not stirring sequences or solid performances in the film, but there is not a single aspect of this film that was not accomplished better by a previous Bourne film.  Paul Greengrass and company certainly do not need to re-invent the wheel, but they should at least drive the car somewhere new.

If you accept that the plot is based on the same structure as the earlier films but with specific elements featured in other (better) spy films of the last few years, you’ll likely find reasonable entertainment value from Jason Bourne nonetheless.  The plot is incited by our old friend Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who very easily hacks into the CIA and steals secret files on all black ops projects.  There, she learns more about Jason Bourne’s past, and decides to hunt him down in order to reveal all of this information to the public.  Of course, the CIA is not so happy about this plan, and intervenes with the familiar triad of surveillance, highly-trained assets, and secret plots.  Jason Bourne himself is not super excited about any of this; he’s plenty happy punching the shit out of burly Russians for money and staying off the grid.

Aside from Stiles, the performances in Jason Bourne are quite strong.  Stiles acts like she had her vacation to Greece interrupted by the filming of a Bourne movie and isn’t too happy to be there.  Mercifully, she gets her wish and doesn’t have to be in any more of the movie.  Matt Damon as our favorite non-fish amnesiac  Jason Bourne is much the same as he has always been, but older.  He also seems to lack the intelligence of his younger self, as there are multiple times throughout the film that someone gets the better of him in one way or another.  For a character with such a world-weariness about him, this is kind of a fascinating choice.  Of course he would be slipping up and be rough around the edges – he’s spent years away from the spy game!

The other major character that is worthy of accolade is the CIA computer specialist, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).  She is infused with ambition and has an incredible grasp of the computational techniques used in the spy trade.  Hence, when she succeeds in tracking down Parsons and Bourne, she is able to parlay that into a more senior position alongside CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).  For those counting along at home, that makes three Oscar winners in the three lead roles of this film, and it certainly shows.  Vikander will likely continue her ascent towards godhood which will be fully realized after her turn as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, but in the meantime she’s probably gunning after another Oscar or two first.  She certainly does no wrong in this film, and manages to be the sole injection of new life into this franchise.  In fact, I’d watch a sequel called, “Heather Lee” before I’d watch another one starring Jason Bourne.

Unlike so many other failures this year, criticism of this movie cannot be based around the technical movie-making or the performances, because these aspects are precisely what you would expect from this collection of talent.  The disappointing part is the lackluster story and the recycled themes.  Once again, we are “treated” to a spy film centered around a rampant increase in the power of the surveillance state.  From Spectre to Captain America: The Winter Soldier it seems that all the spy flicks are based around retreating privacy in the face of technology.  And that’s certainly a fine theme to explore – but at this point you need to do a better job than mentioning Edward Snowden’s name three separate times in your movie and waving your hands while saying, “Operating system” or “Mobile App” or whatever.

We want to see new, exciting things, and the higher-ups at Hollywood are more comfortable throwing out re-treads of yesteryear in the hopes of striking the same gold as Jurassic World and Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  At the heart of the issue is a lack of imagination in storytelling; films still look gorgeous (usually), and have outstanding performances (sometimes), but the story is lagging behind horribly.  Jason Bourne may be the poster child for such a monstrosity.  It has all the window-dressing of a high-budget blockbuster:  great performances, dazzling action sequence, and practiced direction.  But inside, the store is empty.

Thanks for reading my latest disappointment with Hollywood!  Let’s try to remember when movies were fun:  what is your favorite moment in a Bourne flick?  For my money, nothing has even been as good as the Matt Damon vs. Clive Owen sniper fight in the field.

Remember to “like” this badass piece of criticism and share it with the appropriate buttons along the bottom, and as always I encourage open argument regarding my poorly-thought-0ut opinions.

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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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