As someone who likes, but not loves, the Bourne franchise, I went in with moderate expectations and found another briskly paced and quite brutal espionage thriller; even though it follows a pretty much identical structure as the others. But is that all there is? Looking at the series as a whole though (not counting the Renner spin-off) for me it's The Bourne Identity that now feels like the odd one out; a much more organic, human and compelling story that allowed us to get to know the character even before he knew himself. The sequels developed Bourne’s backstory and added layers to the mystery; but once established as the invincible superspy-on-the-run he lost some of the vulnerablility and humanity that made us like him in the first place.
Cut to 2016, and its business as usual even after a nine-year hiatus. Once again, Bourne walks fast through busy streets; shows up for clandestine meetings; fiddles with phones; and beats enemies to a pulp. Once again, concerned looking, well-dressed operatives look at screens, talk into microphones, have terse conversations, and report to grumpy no-nonsense old men. Faces look older (Damon and Stiles), but you know what to expect and Jason Bourne does what it says on the tin. We go deeper into the character's past perhaps (due to some new revelations) however, it begins to feel like we are locked into an infinite regress of made-up backstory; one that will surely lead to ever more sequels, possibly of diminishing quality.
Ex-CIA operative and series regular Nicky Parsons (Stiles) kicks things off as she uncovers a vital clue about Bourne's past- bringing him out of 'retirement' (actually bareknuckle fighting). Very quickly they find themselves on the radar of an ambitious new CIA operative (Alicia Vikander) and her craggy, newly-materialised boss (Tommy Lee Jones in the Brian Cox role) who want to either bring Bourne back into the programme (now rechristened 'IronHand') and/or terminate him for good; depending on their mood that day (given their repeated failure in the past, one is left wondering why they dont simply leave him alone and spare themselves a lot of trouble). But with help from a deadly assassin or 'asset' (Vincent Cassell) the scene is set for another international chase spectacular with enough globe trotting to make even Bond travel-sick.
A subplot involving a social media tycoon (the excellent Riz Ahmed) offers the CIA a new way to engage in covert operations, but that story doesn't really go anywhere other than to try to make the story current. Lets be honest though, most of us are here for the action. Here the film doesn't disappoint as the pacing is breakneck and unrelenting, and the car chases and fights are brutal and spectacular (although Greengrass' shakycam is off the scale once again) especially towards the end of the film. The supporting players are decent (Alicia Vikander is becoming quite a screen presence even though she's less emotional here than she was playing the robot in Ex Machina!) and the antagonists were certainly not the weak link. Less time spent worrying in 'mission control' is also welcome.
So anyone just looking for their Bourne-fix will find a decent, competent and intermittently exciting film; but one that stretches the saga beyond what was really needed. The slightly ambiguous conclusion baits a possible further sequel, although its unclear if Damon has the mileage left to keep the character interesting and relevant. Perhaps it's time to call it a day.