Review: Jason Bourne (2016)

Jesus Christ, Jason Bourne is a terrible film. I’ll admit I didn’t want to go in the first place, so I wasn’t exactly in a charitable mood, but I don’t care. That film took two hours of my life and I’m seeking revenge. Also “spoilers” or whatever.

I could talk about how the only character with any clear arc, a motive, or even a discernable desire to be in the film, was the antagonist played by Tommy Lee Jones. Jason Bourne is only accidentally brought into the plot by a botched hack into the CIA by Not-Wiki-Leaks. He spends the first act sulking and getting beaten up for money seemingly on the verge of breaking down into hysterical fits of tears. It takes the death of a woman I have no idea if I’m meant to remember from the films just to make him to make a half-arsed attempt to try and find out even more about his past. This takes away the entire content of Bourne’s character: 1) he wants to find out about his past, 2) he is a merciless killing machine when people get in his way.

I could talk about how the film is deeply politically suspect. A protest in Greece does not even start off peaceful and leads to a state of emergency and full scale riot, depicting direct action on the left as barbarian thugs and the left wing government as incompetent on security. It portrays Not-Julian-Assange as a pale, vampire-like freak that is creepier than the potrayal of satan in The Passion of the Christ. And, the moral of the story seems to be something like Not-Mark-Zuckerberg should give the CIA access to customer data on Not-Facebook as long as Tommy Lee Jones is not in charge of the CIA.

I could talk about how badly written the film is, with expository dialogue that is so forced having characters shouting their motivations so loud you’d think they’d accidentally put the commentary track on. I could even talk about how boring it is, consisting of 10% violence, 5% car chase, 35% walking through trainstations and 50% people staring at computers. If I wanted to watch tired people read information off a screen, I’d go to work. Not to mention the fact that even walking through train stations and staring at screens seems to require shaky cam now.

But, the thing that really lost me was something that happened about two minutes into the film. It’s something that’s been bugging me for a while, ever since Another Day to Die Hard where someone pulled out an iPad Guigocounter. The fact that Hollywood has completely given up on convincing gadgets and computer jargon.

The event in Jason Bourne that started it all was in the opening scene. We’re in Iceland in a room full of computers and hackers. The whole dialogue is in a foreign language (presumabely Icelandic) and the only line that is translated is: “Use SQL to corrupt their databases!”. Now as I and anyone who has at least intermediate training in using Microsoft Access know, that statement is something like “Use bullets to shoot the people”. SQL is just the language used to request and write data in certain sorts of database. It’s more complicated than, but on the same technical level as, using formulae in an Excel spreadsheet.

The next problem was when Bourne discovers a USB key with “encrypted” written on it. Can’t they even be arsed to write a line in the script “I bet this is encrypted!”. Were they paying Matt Damon by the line? Even if they were, given that encryption is a basic fact of daily life now and that the likelyhood of this being the first spy film any of the audience have ever seen, couldn’t we just have presumed the audience would expect it to have been encrypted?

I get that an increase in ICT knowledge in the population and the fact that devices ordinary people actually own are now more impressive than the futuristic technology in sci fi classics like Star Trek and Star Wars, let alone the spy gadgets of the early Bond films. But, Jason Bourne doesn’t even try. The jargon is of so poor quality that is feels like the writers’ technology research was done by skimming the headings of wikipedia search results. I mean, there is even a shot where Bourne literally googles something. Not some cool CIA thing. Not some hacking into something. He googles an IP address. Seriously.

Compare that to the seen in the original Mission Impossible film. In it, Tom Cruise spends about two hours pissing about on a laptop the size of a George Foreman grill and manages somehow to send an email to the address “[email protected] 3:14”. Since when can you have a space, a colon and no suffix in an email domain?!


For sure, that wouldn’t fly now, but it was well ahead of the computer knowledge of the average audience member. Why do these films seem to think that they no longer have to try and even equal the knowledge of the average audience member?

All of this betrays something more general about our attitudes to technology in society. We don’t need to understand how devices work. We just need to look at them and everything will make sense. This basic attitude, which I don’t think anyone will contest as a fact, is played out so blatently in Jason Bourne that it becomes an accidental parody. We don’t need to do research about hacking, lets just ask google and copy and paste something. We don’t need to actually write conversation explaining what people are doing, just film them looking at a computer screen and zoom in on what they’re reading. Then everyone will understand. Our film doesn’t need a narrative, or a plot, or character development, or anything. It’s got computers in it. They solve every problem.

The result is a movie in which exposition is either blurted out to the audience by terrible dialogue or, for the most part, is found on computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Tonight was the first time I literallyread a film. I really wish I’d persuaded the others to go see Star Trek.

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