The Bourne Identity was really a movie that came out of nowhere. No one was expecting anything particularly great from then non-action star Matt Damon. What it had, though, was a great story, very good direction and a supporting cast filled with stars like Clive Owen and Chris Cooper. All this elevated it to one of the best spy movies in years.
The thing what makes Jason Bourne so interesting is watching him work. It has little to do with gadgets and fast cars. In fact, his high-tech gear usually consists of a cell phone and an beat up car that takes more abuse than one would think possible. Bourne is a smart action hero and is always seemingly one step ahead of the bad guys. Watching him do his thing is as interesting as it gets in this genre of film.
Damon’s take on Bourne is enough to elevate the two sequels The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum to the level of good films, but just barely. Ultimatum, like Supremacy before it spends a lot of time with CIA operatives staring at computer monitors screaming, “Where is he!” and the action movie staple, “Let’s move people!” It’s in these moments that the films lose me. Weirdly enough, it’s a lot like Anchorman. When Ron Burgundy is employed by Channel Four and doing his macho newscaster thing the film is incredibly interesting. After he gets fired (sorry about the spoiler, but if you haven’t seen Anchorman yet, there’s something wrong with you) the movie takes a far less interesting turn. Likewise, when the story in Ultimatum shifts from Bourne to the always-simmering CIA agents, I lost interest.
The other major problem I have lies with director Paul Greengrass. I’ll give him credt, he’s a fine director to have wrangled this film out of what I understand was a grueling and non-scripted production. However, his shaky-cam handheld style just isn’t for me. Others may like the gritty, realistic feel is lends to the film, but it just gave me a headache. Literally, a headache. What’s odd is Supremacy did the same thing to me when I first saw it in the theater. However on subsequent viewings at home it didn’t effect me in the same way. It must be something about the big screen being so immersive. Either way, Greengrass seems to use an ever-shaking camera and quick zooms even when they aren’t really necessary.
Barring the run-of-the-mill CIA action and feeling like I was going to puke after walking out of the theater, it’s good to see Bourne back in action. He’s as smart as ever and watching how he evades the danger is always interesting. In an interview, Damon said he would like to do another Bourne, but maybe give it another ten years. I would tend to agree with him. Bourne has done his thing and completed this story line. These three movies essentially form one six-hour chase film. That’s exciting but I’m not sure you could stretch that to another film without an incredibly compelling story line. With all the “who is he and what’s his past” questions answered in Ultimatum, I’m not sure what that story would be.
Until then, if you happen to find yourself chasing a super spy, don’t get close to him no matter how well armed you are. He will break at least one of your limbs. You have been warned.