Review: 'Jason Bourne' is all flash, no substance

Matt Damon as the titular character in “Jason Bourne.” (United International Pictures)

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 123 minutes (~2 hours)

“Jason Bourne” is a spy action thriller that’s the fifth in the “Bourne” franchise. Jason Bourne returns to butt heads with the CIA when new information about his past resurfaces. It stars Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Dewey), Alicia Vikander (Heather Lee), Vincent Cassel (The Asset), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), and Riz Ahmed (Aaron Kalloor). It is rated PG-13.

If you’ve never watched the “Bourne” series before, please don’t start with “Jason Bourne.” You’ll be left wondering what’s the big deal about the film series, since this is a truly unimpressive showing. Even as a standalone movie, “Jason Bourne” fails to rise above the average spy film. It’s got fights and explosions and chases, but it’s all flash, no substance.

Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) in “Jason Bourne.” (United International Pictures)


Good action

The greatest strength of the film is that it has grand set pieces where Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is either chasing or getting chased by villains. Famous landmarks with sweeping crowds and wanton destruction of property and vehicles allow you to live vicariously through Bourne. It’s a spectacular showcase of choreography and pyrotechnics, and is possibly the only part of the film that’s worth your money.

A psychotic Vincent Cassel

Once you get over his silly character name, The Asset, and stop wondering why they couldn’t have just given him a proper name, you’ll realise that he’s a pretty fearsome character. The Asset has a single-minded devotion to whatever task he’s been assigned, and he sets about with a cold, murderous intent. His final brawl with Bourne is a bloody struggle to the death, as they pit not just strength, but determination against each other.

Bourne in “Jason Bourne.” (United International Pictures)


Technology depicted as inconsistent magic

Cyber security and technological threats are this vague, amorphous concept in the film that’s only pulled out when it’s convenient for the plot. They have arbitrary limitations but unbelievable capabilities when the story calls for it. To give an example, the CIA is unable to stop a hacker from downloading highly sensitive files, yet they can implant a secret computer programme into the download that enables them to hijack nearby mobile phones. Did a technologically illiterate person write the script?

Alicia Vikander’s wooden performance

Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) appears to be an intriguing character in the first Act… until you discover that she has the same expression for surprise, anger, bewilderment, and determination. It’s almost as if Alicia Vikander doesn’t want to be in the film, and has a slightly petulant pout for all her scenes. The result is a character that you can’t take seriously, because you can’t and don’t know what she feels and thinks.

Weak motivations

It’s been ten years since Jason Bourne resurfaced, and he gets into all sorts of hijinks because of — what exactly? The Asian CEO of a tech giant, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), is determined to save his users from the prying eye of the government because — well, just because. Why anyone does anything is a mystery in this film, because it’s all just an excuse to get from one action sequence to another.

A pensive Bourne in “Jason Bourne.” (United International Pictures)

Good action scenes can’t save “Jason Bourne” from bad writing.

Should you watch this if it’s free? OK.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Only if you’re a Bourne fan.

Score: 2.5/5

“Jason Bourne” opens in cinemas:
- 28 July, 2016 (Singapore)
- 28 July, 2016 (Malaysia)
- 27 July, 2016 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.