“JASON BOURNE” — 3 stars — Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles; PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language); in general release
It’s a testament to the quality of the Bourne franchise that director Paul Greengrass can essentially run out the same movie multiple times and keep things highly entertaining. Look no further than 2016’s most unimaginative title: “Jason Bourne.” After a certain point, you drop the frills and get down to business.
All the classic elements are there. You’ve got Jason Bourne discovering another element of his mysterious past. You’ve got a corrupt high-level CIA administrator trying to keep the wraps on a devious black ops program. You’ve got a female character inside the agency who feels compelled to help Bourne.
You’ve also got rival super assassins, a killer car chase and Moby on the soundtrack. We’ve seen it all before, but they keep doing it so well that we’re more than happy to see it again.
We pick up the story a few years after the events of “Bourne Ultimatum,” where Bourne (Matt Damon) confronted the head of the program that turned him into a trained killer. He’s still off the grid, making ends meet by making meat out of his opponents in various underground boxing rings.
But Bourne gets yanked back into the mess of international intrigue when his old CIA colleague Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) comes at him with a flash drive full of black ops documents, just waiting to be posted to the free world. Bourne really isn’t the Snowden type, but he is interested in his own file, which reveals some surprising information about his father.
The CIA has been tracking Nicky, and now they’re back on Bourne, this time led by Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and an ambitious newcomer named Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander). There’s also another highly trained agency asset on the hunt (Vincent Cassel), with an especially personal bone to pick with Bourne.
Dewey isn’t so concerned with Bourne’s past as he is with another program on the drive, a comprehensive surveillance program named Iron Hand that involves a wealthy tech magnate named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed). The resulting twists and turns take us from Greece to Iceland to London to Berlin to Washington, D.C., and finally to Las Vegas for the big finale.
Damon gives the same cold killer performance he’s been perfecting since the first Bourne film came out 14 years ago, and Vikander is effective coming off her Best Supporting Actress Oscar from last year. Jones may be stepping into a kind of placeholder role that the likes of Brian Cox and Scott Glenn have handled in past films, but there’s nothing routine about an actor who can take a benign piece of dialogue like “Let’s give it a shot!” and get a big reaction from it.
You do wonder what would happen if Greengrass and company decided to do something truly daring with Bourne. They might be a little gun-shy after 2012’s “Bourne Legacy” failed to spin off a new franchise with Jeremy Renner in the pilot’s seat (Renner’s character is nowhere to be seen in this new film). We don’t necessarily have to get “The Bourne Musical,” or anything too crazy, but the franchise is strong enough to experiment a little.
Still, what they do, they do well. The climax in Vegas may not quite be an all-timer, but the showdown between a SWAT truck and a black Dodge Charger on the Vegas Strip caps things off with more than a few bangs. It’s a path we’ve trod many times — seriously, does every high-level CIA director have to be corrupt? — but it’s a path that holds up for a reason.
“Jason Bourne” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language; running time: 123 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.