When people I know ask me what I thought of Jason Bourne — the return of Matt Damon to the Bourne franchise after sitting out The Bourne Legacy — I’ve had trouble putting a finger on it. Basically, if you were one of the people who asked me, I apologize for all the hemming and hawing. (I probably hawed more than hemmed.) I mean, Jason Bourne kinda, sorta feels like a perfectly serviceable action thriller. I have no real complaints. It definitely passes my $10 rule (on a blistering hot Saturday afternoon, I wouldn’t want to ask for my $10 back after seeing Jason Bourne). But there’s just something slightly … off.
Then I saw Gun N’ Roses in concert on Sunday night and it all kind of made sense.
Could you imagine disliking something or someone so much that you’d turn down millions of dollars just to not do that thing, or have to work with that person? Think of the millions upon millions of dollars that Axl Rose didn’t make because he couldn’t get along with the original members of Gun N’ Roses. No one really cares that much about Axl Rose leading a Gun N’ Roses band in name only (Rose, infamously, strongarmed the rest of the band into signing a contract that gave Rose sole rights to the name “Gun N’ Roses”), but get him on stage with Slash and Duff McKagan and they can pack Metlife Stadium on two consecutive nights. (Obviously this doesn’t represent the complete original Guns N’ Roses lineup, but they might as well call this the “Close As It’s Ever Going to Get” tour.) But that’s the thing: Very few people can hold out forever. Time has a way of making people think, “Well, it wasn’t that bad,” especially when a lot of money is on the line.
Watching Gun N’ Roses play, I found it to be, technically, a fairly good show. They sounded pretty good, anyway. But something was missing. It was pretty obvious these people on stage aren’t friends – at least friends with Axl anyway. The band goes about its business, delivers what was promised, then leaves the stage. There’s no stopping for any fun banter (the closest we got to that was Axl pointing out it was a nice summer night) and certainly no camaraderie. I walked out not disappointed, nor overwhelmed. Just more, “That was perfectly acceptable entertainment by a bunch of people who would probably be happier doing something else.” But if they were doing something else, I probably wouldn’t have paid to see it.
Anyway, it’s the same feeling I had after watching Jason Bourne.
Back in 2012, I interviewed Damon, which was around the time The Bourne Legacy was about to come out. I asked him about ever coming back to Bourne:
Paul and I have talked about it — it took years off of our lives. Without question. The amount of stress that we were under and it was just nonstop for nine months — in a kind of semi-panic. It was just a shitty feeling. He turned to me on day 100 of the last Bourne movie we did — and we are really good friends — and he just finally shook his head and he said, “This just isn’t fun.” And it wasn’t. And there’s no reason to make a movie — particularly for the two of us — there’s no reason that a Bourne movie shouldn’t be fun for everybody.
Damon would go on to say if a script could be cracked, then there was a chance he and director Paul Greengrass might come back (which apparently happened), but that quote above doesn’t sound like the words of a person who loved making Jason Bourne movies. And while watching Jason Borne, Damon does kind of have a look on his face that at times reads, “I can’t believe I agreed to do another one of these, but let’s give it a good shot.”
And, again, Jason Bourne is a perfectly fine movie. (Especially this summer.) But it’s hard to get past the fact there’s no real reason for this movie to exist. In The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne figures out the mystery of who he really is and what he’s been through, then jumps into the East River to, as far as we know, disappear forever. It was a nice wrap-up.
Jason Bourne picks up with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) finding Bourne in Greece, because she has some more information she hacked from the U.S. government about his past that he didn’t know. And that’s pretty much the entire plot of Jason Bourne: “Hey, remember all that information you found out about yourself in The Bourne Ultimatum? Yeah, so, it turns out there’s a little more.”
Tommy Lee Jones plays CIA director Robert Dewey, a warm and caring man who really empathizes with his fellow human beings. (That last sentence is a lie, other than the Tommy Lee Jones part. Obviously Jones plays Dewey exactly like you think he does.) Dewey, assuming Bourne is going to publicly release the names of secret agents, assigns Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to lead a team in an effort to catch Bourne (ha) – but she has her doubts about Bourne’s intentions from the start. Dewey also assigns an assassin (Vincent Cassel) to kill Bourne, which leads to a Las Vegas set third act that at times feels like some really gritty outtakes from Oceans 13. (I was hoping the Five Diamond Award was involved again.)
Jason Bourne is a completely unnecessary sequel that barely moves along the plot from the third movie. And after what a Big Deal it was in The Bourne Legacy that no one could find Jason Bourne, it does feel a bit weird that the return of Jason Bourne seems so anticlimactic. But (there’s a “but”), even after saying all that, Greengrass and Damon, even just kind of going through the motions for what I’m sure is a hefty payday, still do this kind of thing better than almost anyone out there working today. And unnecessary as Jason Bourne is (and any sequels would be, I imagine), I hope they keep making them.
Jason Bourne is now a nostalgia act trying to earn a few bucks while they still can. And it’s still better than most everything in theaters right now.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.