After nine long, agonizing years, Jason Bourne has finally returned to the big screen. While it may lack the clout of the original trilogy, Jason Bourne still delivered on the series’ promise of Matt Damon mercilessly beating bad guys to a pulp. The Bourne movies finally got the fourth installment they deserved, and I couldn’t be happier.
Admittedly, there technically was already a fourth Bourne movie, Bourne Legacy, which was made without Matt Damon in 2012. Respect to Jeremy Renner for trying, but the movie stunk. It was a bad idea to try and keep the series going without Damon, and luckily they decided to give us one more Bourne movie so we didn’t leave the character on a sour note.
Fourth movies are a unique beast to tackle, and so I don’t think you can review this film without comparing it to the golden standards of fourth movie history. It needs to be viewed in the context of its peers. What is the golden standard of fourth movies, you might ask? Well, I’ll give you two: Rocky IV and Live Free or Die Hard.
When I saw Rocky IV for the first time, I thought it was the greatest movie ever. I was about eight years old, and it was the first film in the Rocky franchise that I watched. I’m pretty sure I believed that it was a true story for at least a couple days, and that Rocky Balboa had in fact managed to end the Cold War.
Then, in 2007, I saw Live Free Or Die Hard in theaters for a friend’s birthday party. Holy shit. Again, it was my first experience with Detective John McLane, and again I thought it was the greatest movie of all time. I couldn’t have cared less that it “wasn’t realistic.” It was absolute madness. I’ve come to realize since then that LFODH isn’t technically a “good film,” but I will still watch it every time it’s on TV.
So what do these films do well? And how does Jason Bourne stack up against these canonical films? Let’s go through some basic criteria.
Stay Consistent with the Ass-Kicking
An important part of successful fourth movies is that they hold on to the original star of the films. Beyond that, though, we want to see some familiarity in their methods of kicking ass. For instance, in Rocky IV, we needed to see Rocky take a beating before eventually coming back and somehow beating Ivan Drago. It’s just how the series works. Likewise, John McClane has always been a brawler, and that doesn’t change in LFODH. From the first moment of Jason Bourne, we realize that the old, ass-kicking, random-object using Jason Bourne is back. At various points in the film, he beats up bad guys with his fists, the leg of a chair, and a car door. Classic Jason.
The Star Should Be Sick of the Bullshit
We all have to remember that, by the time the fourth movie rolls around, the main character is probably pretty sick of all the shit he has been put through. He (or she) should be grizzled, jaded, and much older than the original version of the character. It makes the protagonist more relatable, and makes the whole “underdog” nature of the story more believable. Rocky watches his best friend die in the ring at the beginning of Rocky IV, and his wife tells him she’s afraid he’ll die too. John McClane has a rebellious adult child and very little hair in LFODH. They’re both just a little bit pissed off. I get it. I would be too. Again, this is something Jason Bourne does well. At the start of the film, Bourne is making a living as an underground street fighter in Greece, and holy shit does he look old. He’s bruised, battered, and there are scars from old bullet wounds covering his back. He’s got a sort of muscular dad-bod looking going on, not ripped but also not out of shape. And he’s not messing around– Bourne wants answers, and he wants them now. That’s a check for grizzled, jaded, and old.
Raise the Stakes
The stakes of the fourth film, while they need to be somewhat in line with the rest of the series, need to be high enough that we stay interested. We didn’t want to see Rocky just compete for another heavyweight title– we wanted to see him in a life-or-death battle that would decide the Cold War. John McClane had already stopped local terrorists– let’s give him a psychopath with an eye on national destruction. This is where Jason Bourne starts to maybe falter, but only slightly. It’s got the usual schtick that the CIA is made up of bad dudes (and ladies) who are abusing their power and taking advantage of average citizens. We get the added bonus of learning about why Bourne “volunteered” for Treadstone in the first place, and the death of his father is a motivating factor throughout the film. But, compared to other great fourth movies, there isn’t quite as much weight. I was interested to watch because I like seeing Bourne punch bad guys in the face, not because I was caught up in the suspense of the plot.
Do Something Crazy
Just like how I want to see higher stakes, I want to see the character do something they haven’t ever done before. Give me something new, something incredible, something that makes me jump out of my seat and cheer. The entire Rocky vs. Drago take down is awe-inspiring, and if it doesn’t fire you up, you are about as human as Ivan Drago.
In LFODH, John McClane does the impossible like twelve different times, and admittedly, this is where a lot of critics find faults in the movie. At one point, he jumps off of a collapsing highway onto a hovering fighter jet, and that’s where most people draw the line. But John McClane wasn’t done. To finish off the evil terrorist, he shoots the guy through his own shoulder. They probably should’ve just cut to black after he said “Yippee Ky Yay Mother Fucker” and pulled the trigger, and then never made another Die Hard movie again. We can’t all be perfect, but in that one moment, John McClane was.
Unfortunately, there’s no such moment in Jason Bourne. Like the namesake of the movie, it is just remarkably, consistently, vanilla. There’s a pretty awesome car chase at the end, where Bourne is in a car and the villain is in a SWAT riot vehicle, but it still didn’t feel that fresh. Bourne says some cool lines, but none are cool enough that we will repeat them 10 years from now (I still quote Rocky IV regularly, but that might just be me). It was classic Bourne, but the lack of innovation docks some points from the movie.
Overall, Jason Bourne does the two most important things that I can ask for from a fourth movie: entertain me, and don’t ruin the series. The writers/producers/director stuck to the typical Bourne script, and made a remarkably solid movie. I don’t think it topped any of the movies in the trilogy, but that’s OK. It was nice to see Matt Damon beating up bad guys again.
My Rating (for those of you still reading this article): 3.5/5
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