The Bourne Disappointment
I'm a big fan of the Bourne trilogy. I've watched all three movies many times, and on at least two occasions I've even watched them back to back to back. Naturally, I was very excited to hear that Matt Damon and company were back for a true return to form (I ignore the existence of The Bourne Legacy). As the lights dimmed and a nostalgic melody heralded the opening scene, expectations which I had previously kept in check exploded with a pulse of euphoria. My gut told me I was in for a treat!
Unfortunately, the new Jason Bourne drowns in mediocrity. I'm not going to try to do a comprehensive review of the movie. Rather, I'm going to highlight three critical errors in character development that I feel contributed to this movie falling flat. Just keep in mind there were also positive aspects of this movie that I won't be bringing up (I don't think it's a terrible movie overall).
Hi Nikki, Bye Nikki
One of the things that makes Jason Bourne unique is his emotional turmoil and humanity. In the original movies, these emotions were brought to the surface through his relationships with Marie Kreutz, Nikki Parsons, and Pamela Landy. Clearly the loss of Marie was devastating, but his warming to Nikki afterwards prevented him from hardening into a spiteful revenge machine. In this installment, the relationship between Jason and Nikki is strained and short. They were hardly even friendly with each other, and before there is any real development in the relationship she dies. This leaves Jason to cruise around Europe lone wolf style with hardly any meaningful dialogue because everyone he has ever come to trust is dead or absent. And thanks to his two closest personal connections being killed as a consequence of their involvement with him, he's not exactly keen to bring anyone new into his life.
Had the writers recognized Nikki's value as a window into Jason's thoughts and feelings, it would've opened up opportunities for the audience to connect with Jason. Instead, she was haphazardly thrown into and then pulled out of the story, and Jason became cold and distant.
"So what have you been up to since toppling CIA operations in The Bourne Ultimatum?" Jason, "Oh not much. Beating people up for cash mainly."
The movie picks up with Jason participating in some sort of underground fighting ring. Presumably he's been doing this for quite awhile, maybe even since things left off in the previous movie. It's not clear why he's doing it or what he's living for. I guess it makes sense as a means of surviving under the radar, but it's not a very enticing backstory and if anything it represents a regression in his character. Perhaps if they made more of an effort it could have been an interesting scenario, but they didn't and it wasn't.
Look no further than The Bourne Supremacy for an example of a movie that picks up from a time gap exceptionally well. The character development from the missing time since The Bourne Identity was clearly laid out and made sense given the context.
"So now that you have toppled major CIA operations for the fourth time, what are you going to do?" Jason, "I guess I'll go back to beating people up for cash."
After successfully disposing of yet another villainous mastermind at the CIA, there's no indication that anything will be different than it was at the start of the movie. Jason Bourne is still a skeptical lone wolf who will likely be forced to live in the shadows while the CIA makes its 1000000th attempt at re-branding the Treadstone project. I understand the allure of mystery, but at least give me some positive momentum so I can conjure up my own image of a satisfying ending. As it happened, I can't really see Jason reaching anything resembling solace.
I'm willing to forgive a questionable start, but I will not forgive a bad ending, especially when it may be the definitive end of a series that is renowned for incredibly smooth outros! I much prefer the ending of The Bourne Ultimatum, so I think I'll actually pretend that Jason Bourne never happened. In my mind, Jason swims away to start a life in some quaint corner of the developing world. Nikki joins him. They may not be able to return home, but Jason's persistence has paid off and the CIA has finally given up pursuit.