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It’s the Bourne revival: Matt Damon is Bourne again. After an unsuccessful attempt to transfer the franchise to Jeremy Renner in 2012’s “The Bourne Legacy,” Damon has returned to his most iconic role as the brainwashed CIA super-soldier. He’s the real deal, the Sean Connery to Renner’s George Lazenby, but do we really need another of these films?

When Damon first appeared in “The Bourne Identity” in 2002, he seemed an unlikely action hero, and Doug Liman’s direction never fully convinced. Things only clicked when Paul Greengrass took over for the 2004 sequel, “The Bourne Supremacy,” and 2007’s masterful “The Bourne Ultimatum.” The director’s immersive filmmaking style, full of handheld camerawork and rapid-fire editing, has since become the default setting for Hollywood action flicks.

Such techniques may be over-familiar at this point, but it’s still a genuine pleasure to see them used so well. Greengrass is like an old master returning to show his imitators how it’s meant to be done. There are a couple of extended action sequences in “Jason Bourne” — a pursuit during a riot in Athens, a destructive car chase through the streets of Las Vegas — that are executed with such aplomb, they pretty much justify the admission price by themselves.

Jason Bourne
Rating
Run Time 123 mins
Language English
Opens NOW SHOWING

The story, written by Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse, is rather less engrossing, and a little too eager to assert its contemporary relevance. There are repeated references to Edward Snowden, and the climax takes place at a tech conference in Vegas, where the CIA’s director (Tommy Lee Jones) is due to speak alongside a social media entrepreneur (Riz Ahmed) who advocates greater online privacy.

At the start of the film, Bourne is skulking around Eastern Europe, making a living as an underground prizefighter after managing to spend years off the grid. He gets dragged back into the fray when his former CIA contact, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who’s now working as a hacker for a Wikileaks-style whistleblower group, uncovers information about his father’s involvement in the agency’s black-ops programs.

In other words, this time it’s personal, which comes as a bit of a disappointment. There was a mild existential frisson to the original “Bourne” trilogy, with their tale of a hero trying to reclaim his humanity from the uncaring system that had erased it. The soap opera revelations introduced in “Jason Bourne” aren’t just unnecessary, they dilute the mix.

The world of covert intelligence has moved on considerably since we last heard from Bourne in 2007. Even compared to the earlier installments, there’s an awful lot of time spent in front of computers in “Jason Bourne,” as the CIA — overseen by cyber-ops chief Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) — tracks its targets using facial recognition algorithms and omnipresent CCTV cameras.

Watching Bourne try to elude his pursuers, I was reminded of the Somali pirates in Greengrass’s previous film, “Captain Phillips,” who were hopelessly outmatched by the technological might of the U.S. armed forces. It’s surprising that the CIA doesn’t just send out a drone to eliminate their quarry, though that probably wouldn’t make for such riveting cinema.

At one point Bourne manages to get the upper hand over his adversaries by using consumer-grade surveillance equipment against them — a reversal that might have been used to humorous effect if the film actually had a sense of humor. I was left craving the levity of last year’s “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” which was at least willing to acknowledge the absurdity of its invincible protagonist.

The script leaves the door open for yet another sequel, but perhaps Bourne should consider his employment options first. He’s practically a superhuman at this point. Maybe the Avengers are hiring.

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