Jason Bourne (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
“Jason Bourne,” written by Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, is like a mediocre greatest hits collection in that it plucks a few of the best elements from the excellent first three films and repackages them in a less inspiring way. While a smile was drawn on my face upon seeing Matt Damon playing the enigmatic title character after ten years, the writing does not offer enough good reasons to get viewers to invest once again in the bone-crunching journey of the amnesiac assassin.
The plot is propelled by an ally, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), hacking into U.S. government files and discovering that Bourne’s father was involved in establishing Operation Treadstone, CIA’s black ops program where recruits are trained to become highly effective assassins. Although Bourne has learned that he signed up for the program voluntarily, there is new evidence that perhaps Bourne, previously named David Webb, was in fact manipulated to join. Meanwhile, the CIA director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), is preparing to launch a similar hitman program named Iron Hand and requires the help of a young entrepreneur (Riz Ahmed) in order to spy on the users who use his technology.
There is only one standout action sequence and it is shown early in the picture. It takes place during a night riot in Athens, Greece where Parsons and Bourne decide to meet so the former can inform the latter what she has found. Great tension is eventually established because director Greengrass’ handheld technique is married with the increasingly violent protest while Bourne and company weave themselves in and out of tricky situations. We get the impression we are participants in, not merely viewers of, the action. The sequence reaches its peak when Parsons and Bourne, on a motorcycle, are chased by an assassin (Vincent Cassel) in a car. Extremely sharp turns, teeth-chattering stairs, and pedestrians appear to be everywhere.
I enjoyed that the hitman this time around is relevant from the beginning till the end of the picture. In previous films, they are disposed of during the second or right before the third act—and so we expect the same to happen here. Cassel has always had a knack for playing cold, lethal men—and he is rock solid here—but an argument can be made that the asset could have been a more effective and memorable villain given his role in the new information Parson has come upon. The duel between Bourne and the asset is appropriately brutal but expected.
The final action sequence in Las Vegas becomes more disappointing the longer one thinks about it because such lack of realism has no place in the Bourne movies where less is often more. The vehicular chase down the Strip is similar to that of the later “Fast and the Furious” films in terms of its excessiveness to the point of disbelief. While such an approach works for that franchise, it does not work here. Compare the Vegas chase to the Moscow chase in Greengrass’ “The Bourne Supremacy.” It is clear that latter is much better in framing the action and translating the balance between suspense and thrills.
While still classier than many action-thrillers to come out of Hollywood, being passably entertaining is not good enough for this franchise because the bar is set so high. The acting and technical elements like camerawork, use of score, and editing are in a good place, but the writing is a big disappointment, failing to inspire itself and despite itself.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Three Persian princes (Jake Gyllenhaal, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbell) invaded a holy city protected by a princess named Tamina (Gemma Arterton) because their royal intelligence led them to believe that the city provided weapons to Persia’s enemies. In truth, the false information was created and spread because someone wanted a special dagger that had the ability to turn back time. Based on the video game of the same name, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” directed by Mike Newell, plays out like a typical video game: the main character Dastan (Gyllenhaal) was heroic and had a heart of gold, he met villains-turned-friends (Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint) along the way, and the identity of the big bad was eventually dramatically revealed even though we could see it coming from a mile away. But prior to watching the film, I decided to have an open mind and not take it too seriously. Surprisingly enough, I quite enjoyed it because its energy reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ action-adventure “The Mummy” although not as funny and creative with the action sequences. I thought the film worked best when it showcased the fighting scenes such as when Dastan would try to evade the enemies by jumping from one roof to another à la Jason Bourne in Paul Greengrass’ “The Bourne Ultimatum” only with more sweat and sand. However, I have to admit that the bickering between Dastan and Tamina did get under my last nerves. I knew that they were going to end up in each others’ arms eventually so I kept wondering when they would actually be useful together in order to finally drive the story forward. Perhaps Arterton was to blame because although she was beautiful on the outside, the way she played her character lacked charm. I thought she could have played her character with more cheekiness and far less self-righteousness. I didn’t understand why Dastan would fall in love with her because she acted like a spoiled brat for the majority of the time. When she wasn’t, she acted like a common damsel-in-distress. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” ticks all the boxes in terms of what makes a good and entertaining action flick. I especially liked the visual effects toward the end when Dastan and the princess went under the holy city and danger was literally found in each step. However, I wish the filmmakers would’ve challenged themselves more (or, more importantly, challenged us more) by toning down certain evil looks by characters that had murky allegiances so that it would have been less predictable.
The Tourist (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Elise (Angelina Jolie) worked for a mystery man who ordered her to pick a stranger on a train that resembled his height and build in order to throw the cops (led by the determined but ultimately incompetent detective played by Paul Bettany) off the real identity of the mystery man. Elise had chosen Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin, who inevitably fell in love with the woman who used him. Naturally, the police believed that Frank was the man who pulled all the strings, but a group of gangsters (Steven Berkoff as the mob boss) also wanted Frank for themselves because the mystery man had stolen money from them. Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, expectations were high for the film because it was Depp and Jolie’s first time being together on screen and it was the director’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Das Leben der Anderen” or “The Lives of Others.” The most prolific complaint was the fact that the film lacked action sequences but that was exactly what I liked about it. It was a different kind of thriller because it was more about the ambiance between the two leads. Notice the scene when Elise and Frank met for the first time. Initially, there was no chemistry between them. Elise was breathtakingly stunning and Frank was, well, as nondescript as a math teacher who taught in the middle of nowhere. But the more they spoke to each other, the more they wanted to know each other in a deeper level and somehow that was enough. Flirtation was in the air but Elise had to remain focused on her mission. Frank wanted to have Elise but was afraid to take risks. Even his cigarette was not really a cigarette. Maybe he feared getting cancer. Depp’s acting was easy to criticize because the audiences are used to seeing him play characters who were bigger than life. Over-the-top had become the norm for him. I actually enjoyed Depp’s minimalist approach to this picture which was a big risk but it worked. As he attempted to run away from the gangsters on the rooftops, it was actually refreshing to see someone move slowly and stumble. We feared for him because he was just a regular folk thrown into an incredible situation. He was no Jason Bourne. Admittedly, I was slightly thrown off by the film’s many twists, especially toward the end when we finally discovered the true identity of the mystery man. In my opinion, they should have left the identity not known to the audiences so we could have something to talk about. The movie wasn’t really about the man’s identity. It was about an ordinary man swaying an incredible woman to take notice of him. Perhaps they could even fall in love.
★★★★ / ★★★★
The best thing about this movie was its intensity. From start to finish my heart was racing like crazy because I knew that something bad was always bound to happen. Liam Neeson stars as an ex-CIA agent father who embarks on a mission in Paris to rescue his daughter (Maggie Grace) from the hands of slave traders. I can see why this became a sleeper hit: it had a lot of genuine thrills, exciting action sequences, and a plot that was easy to understand. Aside from the obvious rescue mission, this was a story of revenge in its purest form, supported by the fact that Neeson’s character did not take any prisoner. This was essentially a very “guy” movie because the lead character had a one-track mind and would do anything–even hurt innocents–to get to his daughter. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from audiences that it did not make any sense that a “regular guy” suddenly turned into a Jason Bourne (from the “Bourne” series). I am happy to say that those people simply did not pay attention because in the exposition of the picture, it was discussed that Neeson’s character was once a part of the CIA. I feel that this criticism needs to be addressed because, as a person who waited to see this film on DVD, such comments implanted a seed in my head that the movie was going to be unbelievably atrocious. It was far from ridiculous because active agents who go on assassination missions do exist and, as we very well know (unless one is so deluded or lives in a bubble), slave trade exists as well. Lastly, I have to commend Neeson for essentially carrying this entire movie. Not only was I convinced that he was a dangerous man, but I was convinced that he was a father who really loved his daughter more than anybody in the world, including himself, even if his gestures were not quite appreciated given the amount of thought and effort that was put into them. (He’s very detailed-oriented.) Directed by Pierre Morel, “Taken” is a must-see movie for fans of secret agent films and those who love great suspense mixed with good action sequences.