If 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum felt a little bit like a greatest hits compilation of the preceding two films, then this belated fourth - or fifth, depending on whether or not you count the "side-quel" that is The Bourne Legacy (a film I rather enjoyed and feel is superior to Jason Bourne) - instalment is the equivalent of the special deluxe edition of the greatest hits package: essentially the same but with the addition of some new material in an attempt to make it current, and therefore enticing fans to part with their hard earned dosh once again. In this case, the current stuff relates to (the Julian Assange-by-another-name) Christian Dassault, a Facebook-esque brainbox figure in the form of Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), references to former CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and staging an action sequence amidst the backdrop of the Greek riots.
The great appeal of Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity was an intriguing plot line - like a classic seventies conspiracy thriller but with a post 9/11 edge - allied with the audience discovering the extent of Jason Bourne's abilities at the same time as the amnesiac assassin himself. It was also a revelation to see just how well Will Hunting excelled in a then hitherto untapped role as an action hero. With Paul Greengrass taking over the directorial reigns, The Bourne Supremacy was a fast and frenetic natural progression of the story, and the British director ushered in the controversial "shakey-cam" quick editing style that possibly has more detractors than it has supporters. Despite being very well reviewed, I do feel that the series had began to run out of steam by the time of The Bourne Ultimatum. Aside from some standout moments - the tense Waterloo station sequence being a particular highlight - and Bourne's narrative reaching full circle as he discovers how he was enlisted onto the CIA's elite black ops program, Ultimatum repeated a lot of story tropes and action beats that had gone before.
After some trouble behind the scenes of Ultimatum (mostly involving screenwriter Tony Gilroy), Greengrass and Damon had decided to call it a day, both believing that Bourne's story had run its course. They should really have left it at that. Whilst Greengrass aims to make Jason Bourne relevant in this present age of super cyber hacking, governmental surveillance and internet leakage of classified secrets, the trouble is the plot itself feels like a gigantic contrivance to get Bourne back onto the grid, and in the eyes and ears of the CIA's operations room once more. Not to mention some glaring plot holes - none more apparent than, for someone supposedly "in the wind" (that's CIA speak for a target thats gone completely off the radar) how easily Bourne is located by a former member of his Treadstone program, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles).
Living a nomadic existence as an underground fighter, Bourne is thrown into the spotlight once again as ex CIA operative Nicky Parsons - working with Christian Dassault to expose her former agency's secret training programs such as Blackbriar, Treadstone and the yet to be activated Ironhand - uncovers some new information about David Webb's (Bourne's real name) mysterious past involving his agency analyst father. Ambitious, duplicitous cyber division operative Heather Lee (a perma-sullen faced Alicia Vikander), putting two and two together and coming up with five - somewhat ironic for someone I presume is skilled in math - links Parsons with our protagonist, and promptly figures that Jason Bourne could be behind the whole agenda.
Cue the obligatory mass panicking in the aforementioned darkened CIA ops room, a craggy faced superior (a tired and disinterested looking Tommy Lee Jones) trying to call the shots, an "asset" - a wasted Vincent Cassel, given a tacked on subplot connecting him with Jone's character and Bourne's father - deployed to take out our man, and John Powell's signature urgent and propulsive score working overtime as Bourne does what he does best: staying one step ahead, evading CIA lackeys (also the now obligatory getting as seriously hurt as possible without dying whilst evading™) and a load of ass kicking as he once again has to unlock a part of his fragmented memory. This time its the truth about his father's involvement in his training.
Despite a bevy of signature chase sequences, fights and bone crunching stunt work, the set pieces are simultaneously underwhelming with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Damon, in his most monosyllabic outing and looking visibly older, remains committed to his breakout role - there's even an obligatory topless shot to show just how hard he worked to get into shape. It's a pity they didn't work as hard on the script. Greengrass also seems to have listened to his critics and toned down his extreme fast cutting style, so you can at least make more sense of the action unfolding on screen. Unfortunately, its not enough to save the movie from feeling as cynical a cash-in exercise as multiple releases of greatest hits compilations.