It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum, and now they're back. The plot feels like it was agreed by a committee, as thin as the non-title of this film. Honestly, this franchise offers endless options for titles, and they just decided not to bother this time. So even though the story has a whisper of soap-opera silliness about it (yet another blurred memory comes to light), the film is relentlessly entertaining, building momentum as it surges from dark drama to intense action.
Since finally figuring out who he is, Jason (Damon) has been earning a living as a bare-knuckle boxer on the Greek-Albania border. Then his former cohort Nicky (Julia Stiles) uncovers a new piece in his life puzzle, which allows the CIA's Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) to track them down. As he sends in a ruthless assassin (Vincent Cassel) to get rid of them once and for all, plucky CIA analyst Heather (Alicia Vikander) takes a different approach, determined to bring Jason back into the firm. But he's not coming in without a fight, and as the stakes rise, the chase shifts from Athens to Berlin, London and finally Las Vegas.
As all of this is happening, Dewey is also trying to strong-arm the billionaire founder (Riz Ahmed) of a hot social media platform to allow the CIA to have access to its customers. And he's heading to Vegas as well. This sideplot integrates cleverly with the main narrative, although its message about government overreach is a bit heavy-handed ("Privacy is freedom!"). Still, it adds some kick to the whizzy computer gadgetry that fills this franchise, from tracking devices and tiny earpieces to miraculous hacks.
Continue reading: Jason Bourne Review
Until the special effects take over in the final act, this is an unusually gritty, grounded superhero thriller, with characters who are so believable that the wacky science almost seems to make sense. This is Marvel's very first franchise, and the filmmakers are unable to resist the pressure to indulge in an overblown finale, and the digital mayhem they give into is oddly unexciting. So as an origin story, this film is more involving than most, but the superhero action itself feels rather limp.
It opens as an exploration of the school friendship between the misunderstood genius Reed (Miles Teller) and junkyard bully Ben (Jamie Bell), whose teleportation science experiment gets them in trouble. But Dr Storm (Reg R. Cathey) sees that their work solves a problem he has encountered in his own experiments, so he brings Reed to New York to join his well-funded, high-tech team. Working with Victor (Toby Kebbell) and Storm's children Sue and Johnny (Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan), Reed builds a full-size teleporter that succeeds in crossing over to another dimension. And Ben joins the crew for an illicit first voyage that goes spectacularly wrong, leaving Victor on the other side, while Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny emerge with superpowers caused by altered DNA. The big boss (Tim Blake Nelson) immediately starts training them for military action, but Reed remains determined to make things right.
A strong cast helps all of this play out with remarkable introspection, letting each character develop an organic back-story that brings them together as an uneasy team. The inter-relationships are complex and engaging, veering from rivalry to camaraderie. Teller anchors the film with a layered performance as a smart, troubled guy who struggles to maintain friendships as he focusses on his work. Mara and Johnson add some feisty attitude, but it's Bell and Kebbell who provide the spark of personality that makes this crew so engaging. Then both of them become animated characters (Bell as The Thing and Kebbell as Dr Doom) without even a hint of the actors visible underneath. And the movie never quite recovers its momentum.
Continue reading: Fantastic Four Review
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'The Great Escape' was released on this day (September 11th) in 1995.