“Jason Bourne” opens with CIA operative Nicky Parsons, played by a steely Julia Stiles, entering a bunker full of hackers and taking her place at a computer. She worms her way into the agency’s servers hoping to find evidence of a covert, illicit, even amoral program. Where might such damning evidence be hidden?
Ah, here it is — in a folder helpfully labeled “black operations.”
Well, that’s disappointing. Though a small detail, it speaks volumes about “Jason Bourne,” a ho-hum entry in a once-electrifying espionage franchise. Directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass, who brought real-world urgency and hard-hitting action to the second and third films, “Jason Bourne” settles for old tropes and cliches. With the always-magnetic Matt Damon back in the title role, the movie can’t be all bad, but we’ve come to expect more from a “Bourne” film.
What we get is a retracing of past plots. Remember Operation Treadstone, the creepy CIA initiative that created Bourne through brainwashing? They’re doing it again! This time it’s called Iron Hand — another screamingly obvious code name — and it’s run by CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, breathing world-weary life into an otherwise stock role). Dewey’s right-hand woman is Heather Lee (an impressively chilly Alicia Vikander), a computer expert who seems to have every surveillance camera in the world at her fingertips as she tries to bring Bourne “back in.”
“Jason Bourne” takes pains to hit recent headlines, but in ways that feel glancing. There are protests in Greece — filmed with gripping intensity — but they’re just a backdrop for some cat-and-mouse games. A vaguely defined technology company called Deep Dream (these names really do need help) is colluding with the CIA. Edward Snowden is mentioned. There’s a difference, though, between real relevance and mere references. Nobody here really struggles with important issues, so neither do we.
Greengrass still knows how to stage a great fistfight, and we get one when Bourne finally confronts an assassin known as The Asset (Vincent Cassel). There’s also a truly jaw-dropping car chase through the streets of Las Vegas. All of this is entertaining enough to erase the memory of “The Bourne Legacy,” an abysmal, Damon-less entry from 2012. Still, “Jason Bourne” feels mostly forgettable.