It was probably inevitable, but a faint hint of repetition has crept into the Jason Bourne franchise. This third movie feels an awful lot like the second, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. There is enough energy to what’s happening on screen that you don’t notice the similarity between the two films.
Of course, film franchises thrive on a bit of familiarity but we can at least hope that they have the sense to stop long before they have to use ever-increasing numbers of stunt persons to double a geriatric Matt Damon.
This movie more or less picks up where the last one left, doubling back somewhat to Moscow, where Jason went to apologize to the daughter of the target of his first mission. In the meantime, a crusading British journalist (Paddy Considine) has uncovered the existence of Treadstone, the assassination squad that Bourne belonged to, as well as another program called “Blackbriar” (something sharp-eared viewers will remember from the first film), which is like Treadstone on steroids, responsible for just about every dirty trick the U.S. has been accused of since 9/11. This puts him right in the crosshairs of the director of Blackbriar, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who orders “rendition protocols” against the journalist. Fortunately for Ross, the journalist, he has also attracted the attention of Bourne, who hopes he will know something about Treadstone that our memory-challenged hero can use. He’s able to keep Ross alive long enough to find out that his source is a man named Daniels in Madrid. Bourne’s efforts aren’t enough to save the man’s life but he does force Vosen’s men to dispatch the journalist far more publicly than the agency generally likes. This displeases Vosen’s boss, the CIA director (Scott Glenn).
Following Daniels to Spain, Bourne intercepts and dispatches two of Vosen’s people. He’s joined by Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), Chris Cooper’s assistant from the first film, who offers to help him when they realize that Vosen has sent another assassin to Tangier after Daniels. When Vosen realizes that Nicky is working with Bourne, he sends the killer after her as well. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who has been brought in to the hunt for Bourne because of her experience in the second film, is appalled by Vosen’s willingness to target CIA personnel and begins covertly assisting Bourne in bringing down Blackbriar and Vosen as well.
Despite the vague feeling of déjà vu, the film never bores you, containing two exciting and expertly constructed chase sequences. The first one, where Bourne outsmarts Vosen’s surveillance while protecting Ross, the journalist, is just a warm-up for the film’s centerpiece, a multi-layered sequence in which Bourne eludes the police in Tangier while racing to protect Nicky from Vosen’s assassin (Joey Ansah), leading to a bruising close-quarters fight scene between the two men. It may not be groundbreaking in its originality but this last sequence represents the Bourne series at the top of its form.
The character of Noah Vosen hangs completely on the performance on David Strathairn, because the role is rather thin as written, lacking the texture of Chris Cooper and Brian Cox’s characters in the first two installments. Fortunately, Strathairn seems congenitally incapable of being uninteresting, giving the character at least the illusion of substance.
Perhaps fortunately, the story brings the Bourne story full circle and seems to remove the need for further sequels, but Hollywood being Hollywood, anything is possible. Director Paul Greengrass has gone on record that the title of the next installment should be “The Bourne Redundancy.” Given how closely this movie veered toward repetition, Universal Pictures should heed his advice and let Jason Bourne retire gracefully.