Jason Bourne (12A)

three stars

Dir: Paul Greengrass

With: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones

Runtime: 123 minutes

NINE years ago, director Paul Greengrass and his leading man Matt Damon delivered a pretty much perfect ending to the Jason Bourne series. It was so sweet even the Academy stopped being snooty about action movies and gave the picture three Oscars (albeit in technical categories). There would never be a better time to walk away from the franchise, yet here we are again. Is Jason Bourne a Bourne too far?

Far from it, but it is not an unalloyed triumph either. There is plenty of smash, bang, wallop for your buck, and no picture with Damon as Bourne is ever going to waste anyone’s time. But the third act is a dog’s dinner, the story could do with six months in the gym, and the casting is hit and miss.

Greengrass begins with what might be called Bourne’s lament: “I remember. I remember everything.” Good for him but others, given the gap between pictures, could be forgiven for forgetting the story. To recap: Jason Bourne was trained by the CIA to be a killing machine, an assassin who could get in anywhere, eliminate a target, and get out again leaving nothing behind that would allow him to be caught. He was a human bullet who left no trace. Bourne’s problem, and the CIA’s problem, was that there was just enough human left in him to stir his conscience and arouse his curiosity about who he was and how he came to be a killer for hire.

When we catch up with him again, Bourne is earning a crust as a bare-knuckle fighter. All that starting again business is clearly not so easy for a man with such a troubled soul. He thinks a certain part of his life has been left far behind him, but it is not to be. A familiar face makes contact, supplying a few more parts to a jigsaw he thought had been finished, and we’re off to the races again.

With the Bourne films, as aficionados will know, that means city hopping, lots of techie talk and faces lit by computer screens, guns, cars, chaos and as much hand to hand combat as Greengrass and Damon can fit in without someone fainting. Oh, and rooftops. The Bourne movies always gave good rooftop action.

Fans will be pleased to know all of these things are to be found in the new Bourne. But the way they are done makes the film totter dangerously on the edge of pastiche at times. Car chases are just that shade too long and chaotic. Fights are not so much wham, bam, thank you ma’am as a night at the opera. There is plenty happening on screen, but it is not as sinewy, or polished, as in previous films. There is a problem, too, with the casting, Vincent Cassel is a welcome presence as a hired hand, but Alicia Vikander is too young to be convincing as top CIA analyst Heather Lee (I don’t care how many degrees the character is meant to have from Stanford; she still looks 18). Tommy Lee Jones is his usual grumpy cat self as a CIA chief none too pleased to have Bourne popping up on the radar again. When it comes to Vikander and TLJ, let us just say Joan Allen and Albert Finney are much missed.

The plot goes missing in action half way through as well, wandering into a side story about a Silicon Valley whizzkid (played by Riz Ahmed) who is having second thoughts about protecting all that lovely internet privacy of his customers. This character appears to be there so the screenplay can shoehorn in another mention of Edward Snowden and appear topical.

One has to hand it to Matt Damon, though. There are not many genuine movie stars around any more who can single-handedly take a picture by the scruff of the neck and drag it towards being a success. He has shaped Robert Ludlum’s character into a cinematic force of nature, irresistible to watch, impossible not to care about or to be intrigued by. Now that is clever.