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Jason Bourne’ makes an entertaining but inessential return

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Matt Damon and Julia Stiles attempt to evade their pursuers in Jason Bourne.

Three stars

Jason Bourne Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

Unlike most action heroes, Jason Bourne actually had a meaningful, satisfying character arc over the course of three movies, and his story reached a fairly definitive ending after 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. That, of course, never stops Hollywood, and when star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass declined to return for more Bourne, the studio just brought in a new non-Bourne hero (played by Jeremy Renner) for 2012’s The Bourne Legacy. Now nostalgia, money or both have brought Damon and Greengrass back to their signature character, but they haven’t quite brought the same creative inspiration with them.

One longstanding member of the Bourne creative team who’s not onboard for Jason Bourne is Tony Gilroy, who co-wrote all four previous movies and directed Legacy. Gilroy was often rewritten by other writers, but he might have been more of a guiding force than he was given credit for, because the screenplay for Jason Bourne (credited to Greengrass and veteran editor Christopher Rouse) is the movie’s weak link, failing to come up with a compelling reason to bring super-spy Bourne out of his well-earned retirement. “I remember everything,” Bourne declared at the end of Ultimatum, finally having recovered memories of his training at the hands of the insidious Treadstone program, but the new movie reveals that there is more everything for Bourne to remember, since the filmmakers have made some more up.

This latest rewriting of continuity doesn’t have the same power or urgency as the narrative arc of the original three films. Greengrass and Rouse get Bourne back into action thanks to the cheap sacrifice of one of the series’ best supporting characters, and the new characters that show up are mostly slight variations on familiar types from previous movies. There’s Tommy Lee Jones as the amoral government bureaucrat who wants to take Bourne out, Alicia Vikander as the cagey female agent who might turn out to be a Bourne ally and Vincent Cassel as the implacable assassin with the same training as Bourne.

All of those new actors give solid performances, though, and Damon remains very good as Bourne, who’s become even grimmer and more relentless since his last onscreen appearance. And Greengrass delivers when it comes to what audiences most want to see, with several excellent action sequences, including an incredibly tense chase scene set during riots in Athens, and a demolition derby of a finale on the Las Vegas Strip. Most of the film’s final act takes place in Vegas, which fits in well with the series’ focus on sometimes volatile urban locations. As an action hero, Bourne is as effective as ever, taking down bad guys with deft hand-to-hand combat and daring feats of superhuman strength and fortitude. As a character, though, he probably should have been allowed to stay off the grid.

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