The consensus around Jason Bourne has quickly emerged that it's disappointing because it's just more of the same: that director Paul Greengrass has retrenched to simply copying his own The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum from 12 and 9 years ago, respectively, and is doing nothing new. In fact, it is even worse. If anything, this is less of the same. All the stylistic extravagance that marked out the Greengrass Bournes as both famous and infamous has been toned down so much that when it appears it has the distinct feeling of just going through the motions, and the sense of constant undying momentum that defined those films as well as the franchise-initiating The Bourne Identity in 2002 has been scaled far, far back in favor of momentum-flattening sequences where we sit in as nefarious CIA types plot their wickedness in somewhat more detail than we need. It's breathtakingly inefficient pacing for a series that has defined itself by its efficiency.

Before I get carried away with complaining, I should probably foreground this part: there's nothing necessarily wrong with Jason Bourne, and there are at least a couple of things right. It has a couple of good-to-excellent action scenes that are as good as anything in Identity, even if they fall short of the heights of Supremacy and Ultimatum; one is a motorcycle chase that recalls Identity's Mini Cooper chase done in Greengrass's distinctive style, and one is the closing fight between Bourne (Matt Damon) and the nameless killer (Vincent Cassel) who has been hunting him throughout the back half of the movie, the one place where the chaotic fast cuts that deny continuity and stress physical impacts characteristic of Supremacy and Ultimatum are used in this film anywhere near as effectively as they were in the 2000s.

It also has the bones of a worthwhile story: after years in hiding, supporting himself as a pit fighter, Bourne is dragged back to a life of running when his old accomplice Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) tracks him down, uninvited, in Athens, to wave just about the only document under his nose that could catch his attention. Namely, a history of how he came to be caught up in the long-defunct Treadstone operation back in 1999, and how it involved his father's murder. Mostly through accident, he's put on the wrong side of the CIA, in the form of director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and the head of the agency's cybercrimes division, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and spends the movie trying to find them and stop them from killing him, inadvertently getting involved with Dewey's attempt to bully Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), the CEO of a Facebook-like platform, into giving the CIA access to all of its users' complete profiles. The fact that most of this hinges on a case of mistaken identity (the CIA thinks Bourne orchestrated a hack to acquire a huge parcel of classified files; in reality, he barely wants anything to do with them) recalls The Bourne Supremacy a little too close for comfort. Also, the whole fake Facebook angle leaves the film feeling powerfully like screenwriters Greengrass and Christopher Rouse (the editor of every one of Greengrass's films since 2004 and the writer of nothing at all other than this movie) weren't prepared to make a Bourne picture without contemporary political ramifications, and in a panic, "social media raises privacy concerns" was all they could come up with, and it leaves the film with a weird shape. I won't even touch the utter bullshit of giving Bourne daddy issues at this late date. Still and all, I do very much admire the filmmakers for making crisis come to Bourne rather than the other way around; the simple answer to the question "why would he want to have another adventure after nine years (other than Universal wanting the box office revenue from a Damon-led Bourne film)?" is, of course "he wouldn't", so having the plot unspool as a matter of accident and human error, with Bourne almost entirely to the side of the "real" conflict, is definitely the way to do it.

All of which is well and good and whatever. The fact remains that Jason Bourne is a downright logy film, with far too many drawn-out stretches where the plot untwists its not-terribly-kinked knots as the action patiently waits on pause - it is the great triumph of the original Bourne movies, of course, that they barely had plots at all, just scenarios, which flew at us at several hundred miles per hour - and not nearly enough time spent in Bourne's company, relative to the seemingly endless scenes of Lee and Dewey sparring with each other over the proper handling of the Bourne Affair. It helps this feeling of paciness not at all that the acting in the movie is across-the-board weak, which makes those character moments go by even longer: Jones is quite plainly phoning it in, and I really have no idea what the hell Vikander is trying for. Faced with an oddly-conceived and rather irrational character, she doesn't attempt to make sense of Lee, but simply adds new wrinkles of weirdness, including a terribly distracting accent and a series of annoyed expressions like she just remembered she left the milk on the counter this morning, and can't wait to get to home to throw it out. Damon is simply a flat granite slab. He looks astonishingly old (more than his actual 45 years of age, and ages more than his character's now-explicit 38) and worn-out, which maybe could serve the character in a different story; this one, which still requires him to be a super spy bad-ass, would have benefited from slightly smaller bags under his eyes. And there's no there in his performance, just a sense of perfunctory duty to the role and to the action.

Outside of the moments where the action kicks in, and the editing suddenly flares up and starts racing, Jason Bourne is the most unforgivable thing that a movie in this genre, and especially a movie in this franchise, could ever be: it is boring. Thank God for John Powell, writing his fourth score for the franchise, this time aided by one David Buckley (I can't begin to say what their division of labor was, but there's really not a single disposable cue in the whole of the soundtrack, so it doesn't matter): for long stretches of Jason Bourne, the music is the one and only thing there to remind us that in greener times, this was a series based on endless adrenaline rushes and constant stimulation. At no point is Jason Bourne ever truly, irredeemably dull, and this is almost entirely thanks to the score; it's not much of a thing to keep a supposed action movie propped up, but I would hate to see this same film without it.

Reviews in this series
The Bourne Identity (Liman, 2002)
The Bourne Supremacy (Greengrass, 2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Greengrass, 2007)
The Bourne Legacy (Gilroy, 2012)
Jason Bourne (Greengrass, 2016)