Does Matt Damon have another Bourne film in him? “I never say never.’’
Does Matt Damon have another Bourne film in him? “I never say never.’’ Universal Pictures

Jason Bourne reborn, nine years later

EXPLOSIONS, car chases, espionage, government conspiracies - many blockbuster films have been built around these themes.

But one franchise does them all extremely well. Amidst a sea of reboots, sequels and remakes hitting the big screen the return of Jason Bourne stands out.

Fourteen years since his debut in The Bourne Identity and nine years since he last played the CIA-trained assassin in The Bourne Ultimatum, Matt Damon returns in the simply titled sequel Jason Bourne.

Sure he'd already won an Academy Award for Good Will Hunting at the age of 27, but it was Bourne that turned Damon into a bankable action star.

"I don't think the studio knew if it (The Bourne Identity) would work," Damon tells Weekend. "I didn't know if it would work. We went, 'well if it works and we're all happy then we'll make another one'."

Despite his extraordinary reflexes and strength, Bourne was the everyman's antidote to the suave spies of the big screen like James Bond.

"Bourne really is the opposite of Bond in the sense that he's a serial monogamist," he says.

"He's tortured by the things that he's done. He doesn't have fancy gadgets. (Instead) he uses found objects to try to achieve what he needs to achieve. He's also very sceptical of institutional power. I think that makes him more relatable to our generation."

It was director Paul Greengrass's return to the franchise that lured Damon back to Bourne.

At the time of The Bourne Ultimatum's release, Damon said he had no plans to do another film.

"I only signed up for one movie at a time," he says.

"I think that helped us throughout each of these movies because we put all of our energy into the one in front of us and we weren't trying to set up future ones. The movies feel organic as one-offs because they are all one-offs."

When movie-goers first see Bourne in the new film he is scratching out a living on the underground fighting circuit.

"You have to believe that five minutes after he swims away (at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum) he's haunted by what he's done," Damon says.

"He's damaged and tortured by the things that he's done and when you find him (in this film) you feel he's not resolved.

"He's got some form of PTSD and he's wrestling with these deeply internal things."

Having recovered from his amnesia but still suffering from flashbacks to key moments of trauma and violence in his past, Bourne is chasing answers about why he signed up for the top-secret Treadstone program in his former life as foreign service officer David Webb.

"Each movie is about the prodigal son returning in rage and frustration to face the father, whether it's Chris Cooper (as Alexander Conklin) or Albert Finney (as Dr Hirsch) or in this case Tommy Lee Jones, there's always that scene in the third act where Bourne comes back and gives some kind of ultimatum to the father," he says.

"Each one is its own origin story and each time we've got deeper and deeper into his past."

A reunion with former accomplice Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) puts Bourne back on the CIA's radar after years of living "off the grid''.

Not even the cover of a riot in the Greek capital of Athens can hide them from the watchful digital eye of the agency's top cyber expert Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

"We wanted to start introducing that concept that he's a bit of a dinosaur; he's analog," Damon says.

"In that whole sequence Alicia's character is ahead of everybody. There are all of these things she does in real time. She's a new adversary he doesn't quite know how to deal with."

Damon is full of praise for his young co-star whose film career is blossoming at the same age as his did.

Vikander was back on the Jason Bourne set just two days after winning her Oscar for The Danish Girl earlier this year.

"I didn't think we'd get her because everybody is trying to get her in their movie right now," he says. "Luckily she's a fan of the movies. She came in and created a really complex and interesting character worthy of the franchise."

Just as the Swedish-born actress represents the new generation of Hollywood, her Bourne character represents the new generation of tech-savvy wunderkinds.

"What I love is you can show this different kind of power in the sense that she holds the strings but from the shadows," Vikander says. "Technology is the real currency right now and society is in need of the knowledge these young people have."

While Bourne may be in danger of becoming obsolete in the new digital era, in which hackers can thwart his every move from the safety of an air-conditioned office, the franchise itself easily moves into a new decade.

"With all of these Bourne movies we're trying to make them feel of the time when they're made and security versus privacy is the central issue of our time," Damon, who is also a producer of the new film, says.

"I don't know where that line is. It probably changes for people depending on how scared they are. We should have some debate about it to try to set some parameters, but we're getting less and less private and more and more connected, and that has major implications for our civil rights.

"The movie's not trying to answer any of those questions. It just puts them out there."

Technology is something Damon, as a father of four, grapples with on a domestic level on a daily basis.

"We try to limit it (screen time), but not by finger wagging," he says.

"It's more about trying to get them interested in other stuff to try to forget about the screen. It's challenging, even for me. I've caught myself reading a newspaper and trying to tap on a word.

"In the '80s my mother (a university professor) studied media and children watching television and now she's like we've completely jumped the shark. The TV's in your hands now and we don't know what the implications of that are for the hard wiring of the brain."

The film's virtual warfare doesn't come at the expense of the real-world exploits that made the franchise famous in the first place.

Greengrass delivers more than enough combat, destruction and chase sequences over two hours to satiate even the most ardent action fan's appetite.

"That's one of the things I love about the franchise," Vikander says. "It's a spy movie with social and political issues but it's also a big action, popcorn franchise movie where we blow up 170 cars."

The vehicular carnage she refers to is a key scene filmed in Las Vegas where a police SWAT car is stolen and used to ram through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It took the cast and crew a month to shoot another epic, extended action sequence (the Athens riots) on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Bourne uses the cover of tear gas, explosive Molotov cocktails and the city's narrow side streets to evade agents hot on his heels as police helicopters circle overhead.

"We had 500 Spanish extras who learned Greek chants," Damon says.

"They were awesome and took it really seriously. You'd think the energy would start to flag after awhile because it was sun down to sun up every day for four straight weeks but they were just great.

"Paul always builds an insecurity in the audience because the camera never anticipates the action. He comes out of journalism and covering these types of events and that informs the way he stages and directs."

It always helps when the leading man brings that same level of energy and enthusiasm to the set each day.

"Matt's known to be the most incredible actor and writer, as well as the sweetest, nicest guy. But what blew me away is how funny he is," Vikander says. "I was also surprised by how much energy he has. Every day he was the first one to crack a smile and bring the team together."

Despite his A-list status, Damon remains remarkably grounded (he puts that down to living with five women).

He says he was flattered to be the butt of jokes in Team America, the parody of American nationalism by the creators of South Park, and happily admitted to Seven's Sunday Night in a recent interview that he is asked to sign more autographs for the comedy film, which portrays him as a dim-witted puppet (both figuratively and literally), than any other film he's actually starred in.

 

When asked about getting back into top physical form for Bourne, a man capable of knocking out an opponent with a single blow, at the age of 45, he also turns to humour, joking about how much harder the strict diet and early mornings in the gym are in middle age. So does he have another Bourne film in him? "I never say never. If Paul wanted to do it then I'm totally open to it," he says. "But the worst time to try to figure out whether or not you want to do another film is right after you've finished one."

Cinema-goers will get to have their say about the future of the spy franchise when Jason Bourne opens in cinemas on Thursday.