The Bourne Disappointment

(spoilers)

The genius of the previous Bourne movies was the infiltration art into the action films. The earlier movies used dramatic locations to create powerful cinematography. Iconic settings and local political tensions provided nuanced backgrounds for intense action scenes. Bourne Identity, Supremacy, & Ultimatum created character tensions beyond a tropic love interest for the hero and they conveyed conflicted motivations of complex antagonists. Jason Bourne movie doesn’t just miss the target nailed by the previous films, it seems to be firing in the opposite direction. The wasted potential for good story telling will frustrate longtime fans of the Bourne saga in at least five ways.

Fails Females. The film fulfills the long held Hollywood tradition of only recognizing the existence of women who meet three criteria: attractive, white, and twenty-something. The Bourne movies, in line with everything from mainstream Hollywood, feature male dominated roles in a male dominated society, but historically, compelling female counterparts held essential roles. Sadly, the latest installment falls to classic female representation.

Nicky Parsons, an age equivalent to Jason Bourne, dies early in the movie as a result of her foolishness. Bourne’s upgraded female complement is a computer goddess, Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander. Despite her twentyish appearance, we are expected to believe that she has reached a top-level CIA position. Vikander’s cinematic presence and talent is not enough to make up for the overall betrayal of women. Since half the audience is accustomed to poor representation in movies, the film probably could have recovered from this failure, but there’s more…

Lack of Cinematographic Amazeballs. Remember Bourne’s shock at how quickly he disarmed local police in a dimly lit park, his identity crisis on an isolated highway amidst desolate mountains, the blown up gas tank on a rural farm, or the knife vs. magazine fight against a backdrop of clanging horizontal blinds? This time around, the movie’s makers didn’t get the memo that setting should mean something, or at minimum give a hint of mood. The motorcycle chase through riots in Greece almost reaches Bourne worthiness, but the ridiculous supremacy of predictive algorithms ruined the moment. The entire plot built toward a grand finale in Vegas, but baby, it was entirely bluff. The Vegas car chase was unoriginal CGI with Marvel-level destruction rather than Bourneesque ingenuity. Imagining the whirl of casino lights, bouncing roulette tables, or MMA moves swinging around stripper poles, fans lost their chips betting on a climax jackpot. In the City of Lights, moviemakers played a poor hand with potentially winning cards as the final fight fell to bare-knuckle fisticuffs in. a. sewer. — no metaphor needed to make that point.

Too Much Computer Voodoo, Too Little Cool Spy Stuff. Even the most tech ignorant among us knows that coders’ superpowers have limits. There is a contract between moviemakers and audiences: backstory builds trust so that when a movie shows impossible feats viewers will remain credulous. This film broke that trust too many times. The invisible hand of computer code served up far too many solutions. And the worst part is that this computer magic came at the cost of all the inventive tricks that Bourne delivered in the past. This film lacked the spy details and smarts that made the previous characters exciting.

Unclear Conflict and Indecipherable Character Motives. Despite an extremely talented cast, tensions among characters were murky at best. In previous Bourne movies, intentions emerged as films progressed. In Jason Bourne by the time the players arrived at the final conflict in Vegas, the audience has realized that not even the actors know who is on what team and why they hate each other. Tommy Lee Jones plays the powerful intelligence official, Dewey. Rather than a shady coup of a foreign nation, this time the government Big Bad plans a high profile unveiling of collaboration between the CIA and a tech company at a cyber convention. The movie never explains this collaboration. Even though Jones’ awesomeness as shadowy gruff government types is well established, his character here lacked clear motives, loyalties, and even purpose. Dewey’s final scene felt like discarded versions from previous Bourne movies.

Despite being fourth or fifth in the series, there was no reason for this movie to suck. It’s been years since we last saw Jason Bourne; producers could have built on backstory between established characters and redefined overarching dynamics. Alternatively, filmmakers could have given into the force of the tried and true: a good old-fashioned international secret government manhunt where Bourne investigates his previous kills and makes reparations. Or, to prevent the unclear yet still oversimplified good vs. bad conflict of the current release, the film could have explored conflicts more interesting to today’s audiences, like privacy vs. security or corruption of power vs. the risks of exposing that corruption. To be fair, the movie may have aimed for these modern conflicts, but shot so wide that the target is indistinguishable.

We’re left not knowing how the young Zuckerbergesque tech tycoon is tangled with the CIA, what he is threatening, or why he’s in the story at all. He shares history with Heather Lee, but without any glimpse of their past, the audience has no framework to understand either character’s relevance or motives. Lee’s resentment of Dewey seems beyond the reasons revealed in this movie. The conflict’s message completely collapses under scrutiny of Bourne’s role in it. At the end, we really don’t know what Lee and Dewey have to do with Bourne or why Bourne cares about any of it.

Watering Down of the Bourne Character. The only water symbology in Jason Bourne movie is the metaphorical dilution of what made the previous films great. Perhaps the trickle coming from the sewer in the final scene was secretly intentional. Even the Bourne character is a washed out version. Unfortunately, the character offering the best opportunity for exploring Bourne’s demons, Nicky Parsons, was killed off early. Jason misses numerous opportunities to epitomize espionage efficiency. Slick moves like grabbing a map off the wall or utilizing an enemy’s earbud don’t occur to this Bourne identity. In the past where Jason was two steps ahead, this time he has trouble keeping up. Bourne still does not know who he is or what he stands for, and everyone tries to tell him. But, he becomes especially unstable when he wrestles with… (Sigh, it pains me to type this) daddy issues. After the cut of Parsons death and the absence of Joan Allen’s character, it’s uncomfortable to watch as Bourne’s struggle focuses on memories of his father. This installment offers glimpses of emotionally immature motives and no concept of an end goal. Bourne remains a broken hero, but this version’s flaws are not so easily forgiven.

Jason Bourne movie is not horrible or boring; it just went completely mainstream where previous films innovated. The mediocritization of a story line that used to be artistic and fresh is utterly disappointing.