There is scarcely a cooler song with which to end a film than Moby's "Extreme Ways," and the "Bourne" franchise appears to agree, having used this moody, bravura track to close out every one of its respective installments. Having sat out 2012's failed Jeremy Renner spin-off "The Bourne Legacy
," longtime series collaborators Paul Greengrass (2013's "Captain Phillips
") and Matt Damon (2015's "The Martian
") have not only brought fifth entry "Jason Bourne" back to the focused integrity of the original trilogy--2002's "The Bourne Identity
," 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy
," and 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum
"--but they have also one-upped everything which has gone before. Narratively ripped and genuinely hair-raising, this two-hour chase thriller raises the emotional stakes while proving technically spellbinding.
The better part of a decade has passed since former CIA-bred assassin and test subject Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) vanished from public sight after revealing the crooked dealings of top officials within the foreign intelligence agency. When gone-rogue ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) contacts him with shady new findings about his past from a black ops file breach, he soon finds himself on the run and wanted dead by the masterminds behind new CIA program Operation Ironhand. As CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and field assassin Asset (Vincent Cassel) move closer to their target, tenacious young agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) attempts to convince her superiors she has what it takes to bring him in without needing to take him out.
"Jason Bourne" is a no-nonsense, dazzlingly confident cat-and-mouse actioner, a fourth sequel that makes a convincing case for its existence by expanding its title protagonist's tragically snarled history. With dialogue, as always, kept to a minimum in writer-director Paul Greengrass and co-scribe Christopher Rouse's screenplay, the film excels via its prime visual storytelling and mesmerizing extended set-pieces. The opening act culminates in a show-stopping vehicular chase through the zigzagging streets of Athens, Greece, its daring stunts, vital handheld camerawork by Barry Ackroyd (2012's "Contraband
") and unsparingly cohesive editorial design by Christopher Rouse achieving a sustained level of mesmeric high-wire tension. Likewise, the Las Vegas-set climax has to be seen to be fully believed, taking to the Strip for a metal-crunching, tour-de-force pursuit made all the more immersive for having been shot on location. Every last punch and body slam of a brutal subsequent hand-to-hand battle can practically be felt by the viewer, so dripping in urgent ferocity and catharsis is it.
Matt Damon is terrific as Jason Bourne, clearly articulating his internal journey less through spoken words than his dexterous physicality. With age has come greater depth, and the actor manages a number of dramatically potent moments where all Jason has been through and all he has lost is expressed behind his world-weary eyes. As Heather Lee, a CIA agent yearning to make her mark in a cutthroat profession, Alicia Vikander (2015's "Ex Machina
") holds her own opposite the intimidating Tommy Lee Jones (2012's "Hope Springs
"). Though her role initially appears to be rather thankless, it reveals itself to be anything but once she pulls away from her computer screen and enters the field. Vikander's laser-focused intensity also earns a couple sly, unsuspecting laughs, one in the self-serious way she checks into the Aria Resort & Casino and another where she stiffly describes her job to tech specialist Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) as "challenging but fulfilling" while Jones' CIA Director Robert Dewey looks on. Having appeared opposite Damon in the first three films, Julia Stiles (2012's "Silver Linings Playbook
") once again reprises her role as Nicky Parsons, making an indelible mark in a brief yet pivotal part that gets the ball rolling on Jason's next phase of self-discovery.
Though its running plot has always derived from pure genre formula and thematic depth has never been the series' strongest suit, the "Bourne" pictures have, if nothing else, a firm command of their involving, thrills-packed commerciality. Director Paul Greengrass has turned freneticism into an art form, proving that a shaky camera does not have to equate to a flurry of disjointed, incomprehensible images signifying nothing. He is in absolute control of his filmmaking, transforming would-be familiar action sequences into showcases for creative ambition and the best kind of cinematic anxiety. Jason may not say much, but he's never really had to; Damon gives him a tough, sympathetic nature as he comes to find there are still plenty of deep-seated memories from his past working their way toward the forefront of his consciousness. While most franchises have long run their course by their fifth chapter, "Jason Bourne" keeps throttling forward, tirelessly on the move and surpassing expectations.