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Review: ‘Jason Bourne’ Is a Return to Formula, And Not in a Good Way

jason bourne review

Note: Before you read, it’s important to know that I’ve never been a big fan of the Bourne films. I respect them as important action movies and understand why they’ve had a profoundly positive effect on a lot of people. I’m just not one of them, and I have my reasons. That said, I’m judging this film based on someone who genuinely wants this to be the Bourne film that changes my mind and satisfies existing fans. 

Almost a decade ago, the Bourne trilogy concluded on a somewhat bittersweet note. Jason got all of his memories back, but at a cost — the realization that he volunteered to become an assassin, and he had no one to blame, really, for what had happened to him, except for him.

It’s a great way to end a very popular franchise, helmed twice by Paul Greengrass and beloved for its methodical action and set pieces, with a likable lead in Matt Damon as Bourne. Which is why Jason Bourne, the fifth film after Jeremy Renner’s non-starter role in Bourne Legacy, is a movie that doesn’t even make sense on paper, let alone execution.

Years later, Bourne has not really evolved or changed much since his self-imposed exile. In a way, he’s still a blank slate, as if he still doesn’t remember anything, as evidenced by a lack of motivation behind any of his actions early on. While there should be conflict within him, we only see a begrudging unwillingness to avoid trouble at all costs, that is, until a familiar plot takes hold that prompts Bourne into taking action once again.

jason bourne review

There’s a mystery about his past, yet again, and only Bourne can punch and dropkick his way to the truth. This plays out in a generic retread of past Bourne movies, once again directed by Greengrass, proving that new blood is badly needed to rejuvenate this franchise. Say what you want about Tony Gilroy’s Bourne Legacy, but at least that film was a heroic failure.

Yes, fans of the Bourne franchise will be happy to see their favorite tropes in this new film: frequent car chases, shaky fistfights in dark corridors, shady government officials, an “anti-Bourne” who’s after the hero, and a confident yet sensitive female who illogically forms a deep connection with Bourne, despite having any good reason to do so.

The only problem with all this is that none of it is handled as elegantly as you remember. There’s a noticeable lack of thought put into these formulaic set pieces. There should be tension in a Bourne car chase, but the five or six that take place in Jason Bourne go on for so long, you forget to care, especially when one chase in particular shows a SWAT truck flying through traffic like it’s papier-mâché.

Jason Bourne gets better as it goes along, finding its groove the more Bourne himself is shown in silence, outsmarting the CIA. But it’s still only a serviceable action movie, bogged down by the forced  and laughable topicality of Snowden, Silicon Valley, and hacker culture, along with wooden performances that consistently sound like the actors are reading from their scripts for the first time. In a way, that at least makes the dialogue somewhat consistent with what’s happening onscreen.

Grade: C

Extra Credits:

  • Remember when Matt Damon said he would only return to the franchise if Paul Greengrass directed it again?
  • I mentioned Tony Gilroy, who directed Legacy and wrote every Bourne film except this one. Yeah, it definitely shows.
  • Speaking of Bourne Legacy, Aaron Cross (Renner’s character) is still getting a sequel in 2018. So…there’s that.
  • I really wish they had gone ahead and called this The Bourne: Betrayal, as planned.
  • Alicia Vikander just can’t seem to catch a break with these spy movies. Last year’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and now this.

    I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ Review — I Spy a Franchise

man from uncle review

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, and Hugh Grant. It’s an adaptation of the TV series of the same name, and like the show, it’s a spy thriller set in the 1960s.

The movie is about two special agents, an American and a Russian played by Cavill and Hammer, who have to team up on a mission to stop a criminal organization from starting a nuclear arms race (the plot is only slightly less generic than I’m making it sound). They seek help from the daughter of someone within this criminal organization, who is played by Vikander.

Warner Brothers has been wanting to make this movie for over a decade now, but it’s somehow coming out during what I like to call “Spy Summer.” We’ve gotten a lot of pretty decent spy movies over the last few months, so how does this one stack up?

Well, one of the first things you’ll notice in U.N.C.L.E. is that the stunts are pretty well done. Cavill and Hammer did a lot of their own stunts, especially Hammer. At one point, his stunt double said in an interview that he hardly had to do anything (look out, Tom Cruise).

man from uncle review

In fact, Tom Cruise was one of the lead actors first snagged for the role of Napoleon Solo, the American agent. Henry Cavill (who initially sought the role of Hammer’s character) eventually got the part, so I think a lot of people must be wondering how the “man of steel” fares in this.

Fortunately, I can say that both Cavill and Hammer have great performances in this movie. Their characters are well written, their banter has that signature Guy Ritchie style to it, and you can more or less believe that they exist in the 60s. My only complaint is that physically, they don’t seem to match up since Hammer is meant to be a brute, while Cavill is more of the sleuth. But when you look at them side by side…well, it’s just a nitpick.

Speaking of nitpicks, I didn’t find as many as I normally do in spy movies like this, and that’s a testament to the fast pace and good writing, even if there are a few too many cliches in the overall story. I can’t say I was very invested in what was going on in this movie, and at times I felt a little lost. The movie is shot with a lot of shaky cam during its action sequences, and the script kept reusing an Ocean’s 11 plot device that felt useless by the third and fourth time.

man from uncle review

That said, the movie had a lot of memorable moments, rivaling Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (the other spy movie that came out this month). A drunken Alicia Vikander tackling Armie Hammer’s daunting character out of nowhere was great to watch, and a certain scene involving a sandwich was the film’s best moment.

Overall, U.N.C.L.E. is an entertaining B movie with some neat surprises and good performances, though a little bogged down by a generic plot. What truly saves it from getting into mediocre territory is the soundtrack, which is currently my fourth favorite of the year (behind Mad Max: Fury RoadInside Out, and Paddington).

Grade:  B- 

If you like spy movies, throwbacks to good spy movies, the 1960s, and Guy Ritchie, then this is a must-watch.

Extra Credits: 

  • Again, I’ve never seen the original TV series, so I’m curious to know how U.N.C.L.E. stacks up. Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen both and can share your thoughts.
  • No after credits stinger, but it’s definitely setting up for a sequel (assuming it makes enough money).
  • Elizabeth Debicki is my next pick for playing Audrey Hepburn in any kind of biopic.
  • So Superman, the Lone Ranger, and an Artificial Intelligence try to stop a nuclear war…

man from uncle review

If you want to hear more thoughts on this movie before checking it out, listen to our upcoming podcast episode of Now Conspiring, where we’ll do a roundtable review with multiple critics. The episode will be ready for download this Sunday at 9:00 am (Pacific).

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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