Nine years later, Jason Bourne returns to the screen after “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004), and “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007). This anticipated return in the summer of 2016 is both exciting and disappointing—exciting because the film intensifies my nerves again for thrilling actions, while disappointing because there is really nothing innovative about this film compared to the old ones.
In the first scenes of “Identity” (2002), Bourne was found under water and brought back to life; meanwhile, in the final scene of “Ultimatum” (2007), Bourne jumped off the CIA building and fell underwater. This perfect ending of “Ultimatum” signaled the completion of this spy franchise and a full circle of Bourne’s life. As Bourne told Pamela Landy earlier, “this is where it started for me. This is where it ends.” At the end of the trilogy, Bourne finally swam away in the water, which implies that Bourne regained his personal freedom and would start a new chapter of his life independent from the CIA.
In a capital-driven industry, however, it is extremely hard to end a film series completely if there is the potential to generate millions of dollars. As a result, after an unsuccessful attempt with “The Bourne Legacy” (2012) to start a new series, Jason Bourne is pulled out of the water again.
On one hand, the reunion between Matt Damon and Director Paul Greengrass successfully arouses nostalgia in old fans of the Bourne trilogy. As always, the new film’s action views are thrilling. Random yet thrilling events aside, the car chasing scenes between Bourne and the Asset (Vincent Cassel) are still spectacular and even remind me of “Fast and Furious.” In addition, this new film is set in a post-Snowden world and ties closely to a controversial debate between individual freedom and national security in current society. The moral question of the film is very similar to the Apple vs. FBI case in February this year: whether the phone company should provide technical assistance such as a backdoor service to governmental agencies. Greengrass’s film offers the more liberal answer.
On the other hand, the story line of “Jason Bourne” (2016) is extremely similar to the old ones: Bourne is suffering from his habitually traumatic experiences again. The CIA is attempting to hunt him down because he had access to some classified documents; Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), the head of the CIA Cyber Ops Division, helps Bourne beat the authority. The new boss of the Agency (Tommy Lee Jones) wants to kill Bourne to cover up his corrupted management and abuses of power. Of course, in the end, Bourne beats up all the bad guys and restores justice.
To attract as many new viewers as possible, this new Bourne film even flashes back—more than five times—to Bourne’s memory with his father before a pre-planned car crash. Moreover, Damon only says 288 words through the film. As Film Critic Kate Muir suggests, the fewer nuances the film has in translation, the easier to sell in the international market, especially in China.
After more than half a month of showing in North America, “Jason Bourne” finally hit the screen of Chinese cinemas on Aug. 23, 2016, but with an “exclusive” 3D-only version. It is a common strategy to use 3D effects in Hollywood to boost ticket sales. According to Chinese media, the ticket sales reached 74 million yuan (around US $11 million) on the opening day. The Beijing News reported that only eight of 149 cinemas in Beijing offered the option to view 2D version as of Aug. 25.
Paul Greengrass shot “Jason Bourne” in 2D and released it worldwide in its original format. Universal’s decision to release it in 3D in China reveals how deeply Hollywood is in its money-generating games, even though the film’s violently shaking cinematography and fast-paced editing do not lend well to the 3D format. According to Chinese news outlets, many audiences have reported feeling dizzy and uncomfortable after watching the 3D version.
Is it impossible to close the Bourne series if it still generates money? It might be true. After seven successful books and eight successful movies, “Harry Potter” starts its eighth story, “The Cursed Child,” through theater, a new format of storytelling. Yet Jason Bourne’s largest problem is the film as a simple repetition of the old trilogy with nothing innovative.
Greengrass ended this new film with a particular vague message to the audience. If he wants, he can always pick up the story and film the next series. Although he might risk destroying the previous positive reputation of the Bourne, it is his call. Nevertheless, using a poorly made 3D version of Jason Bourne to target the Chinese market shows that Hollywood has gone too far in its money-generating games and has begun to lose its professional ethics.