Monday, 1 August 2016

I remember everything: "Jason Bourne"

Warning: Significant Spoilers for Jason Bourne and The Bourne Supremacy follow

It's funny what you remember and what you don't. I remember seeing The Bourne Identity back in 2002- and during the first big fight scene between Jason Bourne and an assassin, my mother began singing the ''Secret Agent Man'' theme from the 60s TV series Danger Man. I don't know why I still remember that, but I just do. And it can't help but fuel the nostalgia for the Bourne series. I was 13 when the first film came out. I was still in junior high. And by the time The Bourne Ultimatum came out in 2007, I had just finished high school and was about to enter university in the fall. I know you're probably wondering why I'm getting so personal. Personally I feel it's hard to separate certain films for franchises from the periods of my life in which they came out. And it being nine years since The Bourne Ultimatum and with a new Bourne film being released- simply titled Jason Bourne- I've been watching Jason Bourne movies for more than half my life.

The Bourne Identity- directed by Doug Liman- was filmed before the events of 9/11 and released less than a year after the tragedy. Back in 2002- and more so now-it was a pretty old-fashioned action film, less concerned with bombastic action set-pieces and more on smaller scaled encounters. It even had a pretty tidy happy ending for the most part. When Paul Greengrass took over the franchise with The Bourne Supremacy and the subsequent The Bourne Ultimatum, he took what Liman established and brought a raw and contemporary edge to the franchise. The franchise became a little more darker and morally ambiguous, no- doubt influenced by the 9/11 era that the original film existed outside at its time of filming.

Jason Bourne- again directed by Greengrass- begins with former government agent Jason Bourne- real name David Webb (Matt Damon)- living off the grid and taking part in illegal fighting rings. He's regained his memory yet is still unable to find any kind of real peace. When Damon first played Bourne back in 2002, he was in many ways still the fresh-faced kid from Good Will Hunting and was an unusual choice for an action film role. Now at 45, Damon has played the character for a significant portion of his career and the character has aged with Damon- and vice-versa. Bourne doesn't speak much in the film but Damon conveys the weight of Bourne's emotional and physical journey throughout the series in his body language and face.

Now in a post-Snowden world, Jason Bourne has a strong focus on the theme cyber-hacking. In the beginning of the film. Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), former C.I.A operative and current ally of Bourne, hacks in to the C.I.A's mainframe so she can expose the agency's black ops program. She discovers information on Bourne's father Richard Webb and Bourne's recruitment in to the Treadstone program. Nicky finds Jason and informs him of what she's been working on. He and Nicky escape from a team sent after them but Nicky is killed by an assassin known as the Asset (Vincent Cassel). 

Nicky's death-which recall's the death of Bourne's former lover Marie's (Franka Potente) in the first act of The Bourne Supremacy- is surprisingly poignant. Bourne is a character- like other action heroes- marked by tragedy. Nicky was one of the last people he had any real connection to and now she's gone. Bourne a survivor in the purest sense of the word. He outlives both his enemies and his loved ones. What's most impressive about the franchise is despite Bourne miraculously surviving events that would have killed someone in reality, he never feels too ridiculous or super-human. Greengrass always makes you feel the weight of every collision, punch and- in one instant- concrete landing. As "cool" and exciting as the action is in the franchise, there's a real sense of pain to it. When Bourne walks away from a fight, he may be the "winner" but I think Bourne regrets every life he's taken or person he's hurt. 

As in all the Bourne films, while the movie is ostensibly about him, there's also a great deal of focus on the government officials who are after Bourne. While Joan Allen's Pamela Landy unfortunately doesn't return or is even mentioned, we are introduced to two pivotal new characters- C.I.A director Rober Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, an actor who fits perfectly in to this series) and Cyber-ops division head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who persuades Dewey to let her attempt to bring in Bourne from the cold, so to speak.    
Vikander- a recent Oscar winner for The Danish Girl- is one of the most naturalistic young actors working today. While the role feels its written for someone older, Vikander brings a maturity- coupled with a youthful ambition- to the role of Lee. Without giving away the ending, Lee feels like she's going to be a pivotal character moving forward in the franchise. Lee isn't Pamela Landy 2.0- unlike Landy, she's not as trustworthy and in a reversal of the Bourne/Landy dynamic, Bourne is the older one in this pair.

Jason Bourne reveals the final emotional piece of the puzzle, revealing why Bourne volunteered for the Treadstone in the first place. There's also the story thread involving Aaran Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) as the CEO of a social media enterprise called Deep Dream. It was secretly funded by Dewey, who wants to use it as a means of mass surveillance. This plot feels like it's supposed to be the larger thematic arc running through the film but the themes of hacking and surveillance needed a little delving in to. In some ways Jason Bourne feels only like half a film; and Bourne's emotional storyline doesn't have much to do with him protecting peoples' privacy. But I guess that's the point; Bourne's never been out to save the world. It's not that he doesn't care about people; it's just that all he can really do in this world is survive. 

Both Bourne and the Asset's motivations- when his connection to Bourne is revealed- concern revenge against each other- but the film isn't merely a revenge story for Bourne. Revenge is just another way for Bourne to justify some kind of existence. The tragedy of Jason Bourne and Jason Bourne is he's no better off at the end of the film than he was at the beginning. He may not even realize why the Asset hated him. 

The climatic action sequence of the film- the car and SWAT van chase through Las Vegas stands as one of the best action sequences in recent memory; it's genuinely exciting and is a testament to how practical stunt-work. 

I do feel the previous three Bourne are better and that Jason Bourne needed to flesh things out to create a more complete story. It's ending certainly sets things up for another installment- this isn't the grand finale for the character.  Ideally, the next film may change things up a little more. Still, Jason Bourne is still a solid piece of action cinema. I do hope Jason Bourne gets a happy ending one day. Maybe it's naive of me but It's the least I can hope for a man I've known half my life.