Jason Bourne's called and he wants his series back. After the mixed to negative reception to The Bourne Legacy - the franchises' attempt to pass the baton to Jeremy Renner - Matt Damon is finally back in the titular character role, reuniting with director Paul Greengrass in their third collaboration in the espionage thriller series. Following events of Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, Jason Bourne returns to discover the answers to his questions and to ask some more. Is this a successful revamp of the franchise or should it have been left alone, given the critical acclaim and accolades of the initial trilogy.
A missing Jason Bourne (Damon) finally resurfaces after years of hiding to a world with great instability and fragility. A new programme, Ironhand, has been launched to find him, but Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) gets to him first, offering him the answers to some old questions while giving him some new ones to consider. On the hunt for Bourne, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) employ Ironhand 'Asset' (Vincent Cassel) to stop him but their opinions differ as to whether he should be brought in dead or alive.
Legacy was certainly a mis-step for the franchise; while Renner himself was watchable, it lacked the urgency and compelling nature of the previous trilogy. This time out, the returning characters are well balanced with the new introductions, which makes this - almost as passover period - work far more smoothly than Legacy ever could, or did. Damon and Greengrass use their strengths to craft an adventure that easily acts as a sequel to Ultimatum, despite the nine years time difference. Damon slots back into his role as Bourne with ease and Greengrass' directorial magic in creating a film that feels visually different to any other typical blockbuster is repeated here, grounding the film in the realism that sets it apart from its other genre entries, such as the 007 franchise. It's explosive and energised by the action scenes but sometimes the quieter moments are a welcome relief, sold well by the cast and direction of the film.
Outside the Damon and Greengrass combination, a number of interesting casting choices are made. Of the new cast, the most exciting is Alicia Vikander who, after initially feeling miscast, proves to be an excellent piece of casting eventually, managing to play the steely CIA operative, as well as the sympathetic confidant equally well. As always, she carries an intriguing and exciting screen presence and her character feels well-developed, despite not yet knowing her full motivations - she has room to grow and the final moments of the film set up her role in the theoretical sequel. Cassel is a sinister figure of the Ironhand operation, if not developed beyond what is necessary, and Lee Jones plays the shady head of the CIA in a role that echoes former players in that role. Stiles' reappearance helps pass the torch to the revamped series and sets the ball rolling for the film - giving us something old (her continual appearance through the franchise) before we get something new (new ambitions and characters).
Whether it's my cynicism or not, the film felt like a build up - an entertaining one, to be fair - to a sequel, and a lot of narrative ground feels like a retread of previous franchise plot points. We swap out one torn CIA agent for another and we are once again facing an identity crisis, while observing the themes of privacy versus public, although not as thoroughly as it could. Whether that is to ease audiences back into the returning franchise and remind them of what they've missed, it is still frustrating to watch as the Bourne franchise is the one that revitalised the very genre that it is now formulating so willingly. A number of twists - which I won't mention here as a way to remain spoiler-free - can be seen coming a mile off but the film does put up an intriguing and entertaining fight on the way to them, distracting long enough to enjoy the film for what it is - a well crafted espionage action-thriller and a welcome return for the true Bourne franchise.
Jason Bourne is an interesting entry to the franchise, and thankfully, retconning The Bourne Legacy from our memories. Whilst it does a lot of world-building for future instalments, it sets the ball rolling nicely with an even mix of old characters and new, all played by a game cast with standout performances from Vikander, and of course, Damon. Greengrass' direction crafts a realistic action-thriller adventure, even when the plot and its set pieces descend into either chaos or silliness, depending on how you look at it. Before watching the new film, I'd encourage you to rewatch the trilogy as a refresh of some plot strands that repeat again here. Jason Bourne is back to reclaim his franchise and so far, so good.
Summary: Jason Bourne is an exciting, intriguing, edge of the seat episonage thriller that is a return to the franchise's form, with a mix of new and old characters to carry the torch, even if this entry conforms to the genre conventions it set and revolutionised a little too willingly.
Highlight: The final scene is exciting in another classic Bourne move, and the return of the famous Bourne music moments before the credits start to roll is a welcome return.