Jason Bourne Review

This has been one of the films I’ve been waiting for. In a year of unnecessary sequels, we finally get to one that I have a small amount of interest in seeing. And with the last film in the series, The Bourne Legacy, being rather dull, it’s back to series greats Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass to give us a return to form. This is Jason Bourne.

Jason Bourne stars Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed and Tommy Lee Jones and is directed by Paul Greengrass. Set several years after The Bourne Ultimatum, the new film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) as he is roped back into conspiracies involving new CIA programmes.

I was really looking forward to Jason Bourne. The first three films I would say are some of the best action films to come out of 2000s and it’s made a lot of changes in how action films are created nowadays. But all throughout the film I couldn’t escape the fact that I just wasn’t interested with what was happening on-screen.

I’ll start with what I did like. The cast is a great ensemble, and certain actors (like Tommy Lee Jones as the Director of the CIA) fit straight into the world of Bourne. Vincent Cassel, who plays a CIA asset who has history with Bourne, is another character who again, fits right into the setting of secret assassins and conspiracies. But the standout is Alicia Vikander as CIA agent Heather Lee. Vikander plays her very ambiguously, with several layers of intrigue and menace, ready to do what is necessary to rise to the top of the Agency.

Sadly, that’s really all that’s either new or good in Jason Bourne. The fight scenes are one of my biggest gripes. While the originals were known for their quick cuts, at least they were clear. They would cut to a wide shot, allowing you to see the choreography. You could tell who was hitting who, you understand the geography of the fight. Here, that’s gone out the window. The final fight scene is ridiculously close-up, meaning you have no clue what is actually going on. The rest of the action is quite generic; a motorcycle chase here, a punch-up there, a big smashing-everything-up finale, it’s all rather dull in a series known for fantastical set pieces. I clocked out during the final ten minutes, I was just so disinterested.

The story is another low point of the film. Damon and Greengrass said they would return unless the script was good, but this one feels like a lacklustre one to return for. A lot of it feels like a retread of the earlier films, with several points ripped from one to the other. The main driving force of Bourne in this movie is something that was already explored in Ultimatum and the new stuff feels like a bit of ret-con of character motivations in earlier films. I won’t spoil anything, but one of the main revelations of this films had me shaking my head in the cinema, it was a vain attempt to make the continuity of the franchise seem rich and deep, when it fact it strips Bourne of much of his character arc of the original trilogy. There are some new ideas, which while timely, aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, leaving a couple questions unanswered.

In the end, Jason Bourne really let me down. It might be a tiny bit better than Legacy before it, but it get’s nowhere near the heights of the original series.

Score: 5/10 A low return of a once great franchise.

Now you’ve read my thoughts on Jason Bourne, why not check out my review of the rest of the series?

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Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

The Martian Review

Ridley Scott has been on an impressive string of duds. Despite directing two of the best sci-fi films ever made (Alien and Blade Runner) his recent filmography has included critical failures such as Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Counsellor and 2010’s Robin Hood. With his (second) return to science fiction, can Ridley Scott recover from these gigantic failures?

The Martian stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Ridley Scott. Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, the film follows astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) as he is accidently left behind by his crewmates on Mars after being believed dead.

The Martian looks spectacular. While many of the space station and base camp scenes were shot on sound stages, the outdoor Mars scenes were shot in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has captured several stunning aerial landscapes of the Red Planet, and they are a joy to look at. The blood red sand and epic rock formations are unlike anything I’ve seen committed to film before and knowing that it wasn’t just endless CGI creations makes it even better.

The rest of the cinematography is also brilliant from a technical and practical standpoint. Several Ridley Scott cinematic tropes appear in the film, including a gorgeous 360 degree spin of the camera near the finale which unfortunately doesn’t stick around long enough to fully enjoy it.

For a sci-fi adventure, the script is remarkably witty and funny. Matt Damon’s portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney shows a man who realises the crushing loneliness and possible futility of his location and decides to make a joke out of it. Through Watney’s constant video logging we get to listen to his stream of conscience, usually laced with profanity or a smart quip about his surroundings. These jokes are a brilliant way of characterising Watney as a man who likes to make a joke out of his desperate and almost hopeless situation.

That’s not to say the film is all laughs though. There are some great moments where Matt Damon shows off his vast acting ability and starts to break under the weight of being stranded on Mars, only to slowly pull himself back together so that he can finally make his way back home. There are even some incredibly tense, stomach-turning moments, such as when Watney has to perform amateur surgery involving pliers and a stapler, or another where his space-helmet gets cracked during a malfunction at his base camp. The final ten minutes made my heart fly into my mouth as Watney is finally at the peril of gravity, using all of his might to try and escape the atmospheric pull of Mars. It’s a master-class in tension, something that even suspense and horror films don’t get right from time to time.

While Ridley Scott films have been known for their excellent soundtrack (Hans Zimmer’s OST of Gladiator is phenomenal, as well as Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner) the score for The Martian feels a little flat. The only track that I liked was “Crossing Mars”, and that was mainly due to it accompanying one of Wolski’s landscape shots. The rest of the score is rather generic, with no noticeable or memorable motifs. The film however does have a large array of licensed 70s disco music, with songs such as Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and ABBA’s “Waterloo”. These songs usually come with a running commentary by Watney about how he hates the disco music that he is stuck with, but soon enough he starts dancing along, making the audience laugh enough more.

The other problem (like many other films I’ve reviewed) is the run time. The film is just short of two and half hours, which is longer than many feature films recently. While the film cuts back and forth between Watney surviving on Mars and NASA running through ideas to save him, the film does stay with the NASA side for a good half an hour during the middle of the film. While I wasn’t bored during these scenes I was more interested in seeing what was happening back on Mars, it felt like they dragged on for quite a while. And although I praised the landscape shots at the beginning of this review, there were several that could have been taken out of the film as they served no real narrative purpose.

Overall, The Martian is an triumphant return to form for Ridley Scott. Funnier than most comedies, tenser than most suspense movies and enough techno-talk for the scientists without losing the mainstream audience, The Martian could well be one of the best of the year.

Score: 8/10 Brilliant escapist fun from a legendary director.