It’s difficult for anybody to switch careers. But discredited government assassins have it harder than most.
Think of even the most bare-bones application form for the local fast food joint: Name? Which one? Social Security Number? Yeah, next question. References? Anyone who can vouch for the quality of your work as an assassin is either, by definition, dead or literally wants to kill you.
No, former assassins’ next-career options are pretty limited. You know, stuff like engaging in shady pay-per-punch brawls in the lawless lands of Eurasia.
And so it goes for Jason Bourne.
For nearly a decade, Jason’s been off the grid, bloodying his knuckles for his daily bread. Hey, at least he’s using his well-honed governmental hand-to-hand training for something, right?
But while Jason may be in hiding, he’s not completely invisible. Not, at least, to a few trusted associates from his past. During one particular bout, he sees the familiar face of his one-time helpmate Nicky Parsons. Seems the former CIA agent has been off the grid for some time herself. But old habits die hard, and she recently hacked into the intelligence agency’s online closet—the one where it keeps all its scariest skeletons. There she discovered a handful of secrets so shocking that she just had to tell her absentee assassin BFF all about them.
First, Jason’s dad was actually involved in Treadstone, the very same super-secret initiative that Jason eventually volunteered for.
Second, Jason was actually under surveillance by the same organization for months before he ever actually volunteered … which makes Jason wonder whether his choice to join was so much of a choice at all.
Third, the CIA—having not, apparently, learned that Jason Bourne totally ruins all their super-secret operations—has yet another nefarious plan in the works, something code-named Iron Hand.
Clearly, whoever’s in charge of naming CIA files is looking for a career change themselves—perhaps transferring over to SPECTRE. If only the CIA had named the file, say, “Fluffy Cuddles,” or “Mom’s Favorite Gluten-Free Recipes,” Nicky might’ve passed on it and left Jason to keep beating up people in Obskuristan.
As it is, she knows that the CIA is up to no good. Only Jason Bourne can stop it, and he’ll need a whole new movie to do so.
Jason Bourne is a lot like James Bond: Both are charismatic, highly skilled agents fighting nefarious organizations that threaten the safety of the world. The twist: In the Bourne franchise, that nefarious organization just happens to be the U.S. government.
It’s a pretty cynical premise, of course. But within that premise, there’s no question who’s fighting the good fight. Jason wants to protect what America stands for—truth, justice, etc.—even if the CIA has lost its way. His idealism has been noted: Even some of his adversaries call him a “true patriot,” hoping to get him to return to the fold.
But while he tries to uncover some of the government’s most closely guarded secrets, he’s no Edward Snowden. When one hacker begs Jason to leave incriminating files with him, saying that “people have a right to know,” Jason balks, perhaps knowing that exposing such secrets could harm real people and the country he loves. “I’m not on your side,” he says.
But there’s another element in play in Jason Bourne. Here, Jason’s love for his dearly departed father is part and parcel of his crusade against the latest CIA overreach. And while that doesn’t always manifest itself in the best of ways (as we shall see), there’s no question that Jason did love his pops.
The film, in its own way, also addresses one of the most critical, compelling issues of modern life: The balance our government struggles to strike between personal freedom and national security. Jason Bourne has some strong opinions on the matter, but it at least gives viewers a framework for some healthy discussion afterward.
Jason and his bare-knuckle adversaries fight shirtless.
A hallmark of the Bourne movies has been frenetic, shaky-camera action sequences, and Jason Bourne doesn’t deviate.
Jason is pursued throughout the film by an assassin known only as “The Asset,” who treats others’ lives as callously as most of us do used soda cans. When we first meet that unnamed operative, he’s holed up in an apartment in Rome, watching a soccer game while a bloodied, whimpering man sits, tied and gagged, in a bathtub. The Asset receives a call from the CIA telling him to close out his “account” and go to Greece. The man complies—shooting the tortured man in the head (offscreen).
The Asset shoots several other people during the course of the film. And while those shootings aren’t particularly gory, they’re almost all lethal. People sometimes lie in the street, blood pooled around their heads. Two people fall from a building, one dying in the process. The assassin kills several innocent people when they get in his way. In one scene the Asset, driving an armored vehicle, careens through a street crowded with cars and simply smashes through them, like a snow plow blasting through snow. We don’t see how many people are killed or injured, but given the metallic rubble left in the man’s wake, we can assume both numbers are in the dozens.
In contrast, Jason—the perpetrator of 32 confirmed kills, we’re told—is less prone to kill without provocation. While he does seek vengeance against those who might’ve had anything to do with his father’s mysterious death, he only actually kills perhaps two people, and both could technically be seen as acts of self-defense. That said, Jason doesn’t feel at all bad at knocking people unconscious: Anyone who stands in Bourne’s way is sure to need some aspirin and an ice pack later.
Characters engage in frenetic fights involving fists, feet, knives, weights, electrical cords, and even a coffee can. Rioters throw stones and Molotov cocktails, and they rowdily skirmish with police. Vehicles are driven with reckless abandon, leading to a host of car crashes and pedestrians leaping out of the way. (One vehicle smashes into a casino lobby, mowing down slot machines and threatening gamblers.)
A couple of folks get slammed into walls during street-based foot chases and a confrontation on a rooftop. Someone’s shot in the hand, though in the moment it looks as though his wound might be much worse. A handful of people are killed or wounded during a shootout. Some suffer bleeding gunshot wounds. In a flashback, someone dies in an explosion, and we see his bloodied body. Guns are brandished. Computers are burned. Assassination orders are made with clinical detachment.
Four s-words (plus one uncompleted use). Other profanities include “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “pr–k.” Jesus’ name is abused four times, while God’s name is paired twice with “d–n.”
The Asset drinks what appears to be an alcoholic beverage watching a soccer match.
The CIA, as you might imagine, isn’t the most transparent of organizations, even under the best of circumstances. And here, members of its upper echelons lie and mislead for their own nefarious purposes.
Bourne swipes stuff for his various strategeries, from tracking chips to access badges to Molotov cocktails.
There’s a certain irony that Jason Bourne has become such a well-known character. His whole shtick is that he is super-hard to pin down. But when it comes to his movies, most fans know exactly what to expect. Jason Bourne, the assassin, may be a mysterious figure. But Jason Bourne, the movie, is a known quantity.
The Bourne movies eschew the slick outlandishness we get in James Bond or Mission Impossible flicks. In its place is a character bristling with taut, raw energy. Jason doesn’t toss off one-liners like Bond or engage in aerobatic feats of derring-do like MI’s Ethan Hunt. Instead, he stalks through the movie with flying fists, a clenched jaw and always-watchful eyes. Visually, the palate is gray and murky. And the movie itself feels correspondingly dark (a vibe that’s reinforced by the film’s bad language, include several misuses of Jesus’ name).
That said, Jason Bourne steers clear of the sensual vibe and sexual dalliances found in many a spy saga. The characters, frankly, don’t have much time for hanky-panky, what with all the frenetic mayhem we see. But even there, the action may be frenetic, but it’s not gratuitous. Blood is shed, but it doesn’t spatter the screen.
The Bourne movies are sometimes called thrillers for the thinking man (and woman). And they do grapple with some thought-provoking themes. But there’s a lot of just plain ol’ grappling, too, not to mention shooting and assassinating. As such, it’s only fair that we give Jason Bourne some thought before we go to see it as well.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.