Jason Bourne

Director: Paul Greengrass (2016) BBFC cert 12A

Matt Damon returns to the action treadmill for a fourth outing as the amnesiac assassin in this flat fifth episode of the franchise.

He was already an Oscar winning star when he powered 2002’s The Bourne Identity to usher in a new wave of inventively violent thrillers grounded in the real world.

Here references to whistleblower Edward Snowden and wikileaks sit beside a social media entrepreneur and European democratic protests.

The impact on cinema was to invigorate the competition and in 2006 Daniel Craig duly wowed the world as a gritty James Bond in Casino Royale.

So it’s curious at a time when Craig is supposedly stepping out of 007’s tux, the 45 year old Damon is jumping back into the fray.

He’s in tremendous physical shape and grimly charismatic but there is a sense of what was once the future is now past its best.

The plot reheats the familiar routine of global games of violent cat and mouse. Tommy Lee Jones is the grizzled new CIA director wanting Bourne dead and Alicia Vikander is his ambitious analyst who has murky motives for helping our hero. There’s even a new black ops programme named Ironhand in the works.

Fundamentally the story is of the CIA engaging a huge amount of time and resources to pursue a vendetta against its own former operatives in order to protect what we must laughably call its good name.

This leaves the audience as bemused bystanders to a purely internal affair with no investment in the outcome.

There is no sex, romance, drugs, booze or even coffee in the life of the humourless and puritan patriot, making Bourne difficult to root for.

Previously uncovered secrets of Bourne’s personal history are uncovered to jumpstart the plot. It’s a desperate move reminiscent of Charles Bronson’s Deathwish (1974-1994) series which went to increasingly ludicrous lengths to find new family and friends to sacrifice in order the vigilante could once more shoot bad guys with impunity.

Greengrass gives the action some impact and the stunt crew earn their bonus. Athens stages a brilliant riot but by the time Bourne is gambling his life on the streets of Las Vegas, I’d forgotten why I ever cared.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott (2015)

Blast off to the red planet in this breathless, big budget sci-fi adventure which rockets along to a disco beat.

Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel, director Ridley Scott has rarely had so much fun or provided so much clever, crowd pleasing entertainment.

Scott washes away his reputation as a dry visual perfectionist by splashing wild torrents of humour and humanity over his typically brilliant design and cinematography.

When a Nasa team is forced to abort their experiments on the surface of Mars, Mark Watney is assumed dead and left behind.

Intelligent and likeable, Matt Damon is terrifically cast as the marooned astronaut forced to improvise to survive.

His resourcefulness allows him to farm water, oxygen and food but is constantly beset by technical problems, not least having no communications with colleagues in space or on Earth.

The operation he performs on himself is not as graphic as the one Noomi Rapace endured in Scott’s flawed Prometheus (2012) but still not for the squeamish.

Meanwhile Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara and Michael Pena begin the long journey home in their spacecraft.

When a Nasa technician discovers Watney’s alive, his now not-dead presence presents a tricky PR problem, especially if they fail to keep him alive a second time.

It’s a race against time, budgets, office politics and technical limitations.

As harassed Nasa officials, the comic ability of Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig are used to good effect in straight roles.

British Oscar nominated star of misery memoir 12 Years A Slave (2013) Chiwetel Ejiofor brings charm and warmth.

Sean Bean is a gruff conscience who brings heart to the constant equation crunching and scores for a big laugh.

The huge success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) combination of humour, action, state of the art effects and pop tunes is clearly an influence. But this is more grounded and less smug.

With the exception of a strangely retro-titled ‘advanced supercomputer’, an excellent script offers plenty of plausible sounding sciency stuff.

Remember the killer scene in Apollo 13 (1995) when the Nasa techies have to improvise a new gizmo from old hairdryer parts and a vacuum cleaner? Most of The Martian is that scene – but bigger.

There are scenes in China which may well be extended when the film is released in that market. Unlike films such as Iron Man 3 (2013) the Chinese element feels a necessary part of the narrative.

Ideas and motifs touched upon in Silent Running (1972) Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964) appear.

There’s little bitterness, fear or insanity but vast amounts of hope, hard work and optimism.

The Martian celebrates the courage, ingenuity and loyalty of humanity. It is a cry from the heart for the return of to an age of space exploration.

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski worked on Scott’s flawed Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). Scott often has him shoot from a low angle to include ceilings and skies in his shot, heightening the sense of Watney’s captivity and suffocating isolation.

Special effects by British SFX house Framestore bring the same bravura technical skills we saw employed to Oscar winning effect in Gravity (2013).

Having made two definitive pieces of sci-fi early in his career with Alien (1979) Blade Runner (1982), Scott has finally added a markedly different but triumphant third at the tail end of it.

Although much of the humour is as dry as the beautiful Martian landscapes, with music by Abba, Donna Summer and the O’Jays, there’s no shortage of atmosphere in this outer space epic.