Movie review: Jason Bourne returns for spy movie sequel

shareSuper spies Jason Bourne and James Bond may share the same initials, but that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. James Bond is the type of spy we all secretly daydream about being: he drives a fancy car, travels to exotic locations, has a bunch of cool gadgets, and always manages to arrive in style. He gets in just enough danger to keep things exciting, but we never doubt he’ll save the day.

Although the Jason Bourne movies are entertaining to watch, I definitely wouldn’t want to be him. The Bourne movies are grittier and far less stylized — and, in theory, a little closer to what life is probably like for spies in the real world. There are no fancy hotels or martinis “shaken, not stirred” for Bourne. His domains are grimy alleyways, dingy apartments off the grid, and whatever vehicle he can find. He operates in the moral gray area, and learns the government agency he is working for may be almost as corrupt as the “bad guys” he’s supposed to be fighting.

It’s been almost a decade since we last saw Jason Bourne in theaters (if you don’t count the 2012 spin-off “The Bourne Legacy,” starring Jeremy Renner). Director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon brought the character back this summer, in a sequel titled simply “Jason Bourne.” Was the sequel worth the wait?

Since it’s been a few years since the last Bourne movie, here’s a quick refresher course. In 2002’s “The Bourne Identity,” Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is found drifting in the Mediterranean Sea with gunshot wounds in his back, the number for a Swiss safety deposit box, and a severe case of amnesia. As he struggles to put the pieces of his past back together, he learns he’s a CIA assassin who was part of a top secret program known as “Operation Treadstone.” He exposes CIA corruption but then is forced to go underground at the end of “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007).

At the start of the new film, Bourne is still operating off the grid, using his skills to earn what money he can in illegal fighting rings. After an old contact reaches out to him, claiming she has some new information about his past, Bourne becomes a CIA target once again. The CIA director is determined to do whatever is necessary to silence him, but Bourne may find some unexpected allies within the organization.

When the first Bourne movie came out in 2002, it tapped into our very real post 9-11 fears about national security and the ethical debate about how far our government should go to keep people safe. Jason Bourne struggles with his role as an assassin; is he a hero for stopping international threats, or he is simply a cold-blooded killer who may one day take things a step too far? Those themes made the original Bourne movies a taut, thrilling trilogy that was well received by critics (all three are 80+ percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

The new movie has the same tone and style, with the gritty action that drew fans to this series. However, the Rotten Tomatoes summary perhaps says it best: “‘Jason Bourne’ delivers fans of the franchise more of what they’ve come to expect — which is this sequel’s biggest selling point as well as its greatest flaw.” The new movie is exciting and action-packed, but, in the end, doesn’t really bring anything new to the franchise.

The best parts of the movie are the intense action sequences, and the performance from Matt Damon as conflicted spy Jason Bourne. While I love the Bond movies (my all-time favorite spy franchise), I like the different perspective the Bourne movies bring to the genre. The series really delves into the moral gray areas of espionage. Bourne feels guilty for his past actions and is unable to justify all that has been done in the name of national security. In this outing, I liked the contrast between his character and CIA director Robert Dewey, played with cold pragmatism by Tommy Lee Jones.

Overall, though, the film felt a bit too familiar; it fits in comfortably with the franchise but doesn’t really cover new ground. I appreciated how they worked in some of our current fears about privacy and social media, but I wished that theme had been fleshed out more. Although the film is entertaining and well executed, it came with just a little too much déjà vu.

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