The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 111 min.
Cast: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Straithairn, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Cooper (cameo), Brian Cox (cameo)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi (based on the novel by Robert Ludlum)
Review published August 5, 2007
Jason Bourne is back, and he's still being chased by a faction of the CIA who have insidiously been trying to keep the details of his origin and missions under wraps for fear of exposure. Bourne (Damon, Ocean's Thirteen) isn't yet able to remember all of the details of his life, still hampered by amnesia. There are some new memories, as his latest remembrances detail his first days as an operative and some of the brutal training involved in making him the cold-blooded and immensely talented assassin he would become. After a botched attempt to protect the life of a journalist (Considine, Hot Fuzz) who has been diligently digging into Bourne's past to uncover the insidious plot, CIA man Noah Vosen (Strathairn, Fracture), who has pushed forward another assassin training program similar to Treadstone (dubbed Blackbriar) puts forth the order to take Bourne out at any cost.
The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the rare third films in a series that has gotten more favorable reviews than its two predecessors from many critics. I won't be one of them. While I do enjoy the film, and think the action is as exciting as it has ever been, I do think this entry to be the weakest of the trilogy for a few reasons. First, all of our emotional investment in Bourne's plight is generated much more from the momentum carried over from the first two films more so than in anything that happens in this film. Second, the story itself doesn't go very much forward from where we left Bourne at the end of the second film, and with the exception of finding out a little more about Bourne's early days joining the assassin program, it can be argued that the story doesn't go anywhere at all. Lastly, this entry is all about the action, action, and more action. That doesn't sound like a bad thing except that this entry does have a sizable fatigue factor that comes into play from the constant quick-cut editing, ever-shaky camera work, and lack of any moments where we can catch our breath. Epileptic seizure warnings before screenings may have been in order.
The first film, The Bourne Identity,, has its action scenes, but they are tempered well with scenes of background information, conversations of intrigue, and a few glimpses of a budding romance. The Bourne Supremacy offers a little more emphasis on action, but still follows the same formula, and has an air of unpredictability that helps out when the action does come into play, as we establish early on that characters can get wounded and die, and these wounds and losses don't go away after the scene is over. Bourne carries around the scars with him wherever he goes.
The Bourne Ultimatum also carries over the wounds from the second film, and in fact, it actually rewrites a great deal of the events that happen at the end of Supremacy, taking place before the end of that film for a good chunk of it. One gets the feeling that the bulk of Ultimatum's first half consists of ideas that had been cultivated from Tony Gilroy's (Armageddon, The Devil's Advocate) Supremacy script, and perhaps even shot, but had been edited out for time or for thematic reasons. It would be easy to envision that they might use some of these deleted scenes, inject a few scenarios where they could stuff in prolonged action sequences, and have a third movie. Of course, I'm only speculating about this, and perhaps everything you see in the third film that isn't a flashback is newly shot for this film, but my gut tells me otherwise. It looks like a new meal, but it sure tastes like leftovers -- instead of the third in a trilogy, this could have been more properly released as Bourne 2.5.
Luckily for us, leftovers are still tasty enough to consume and enjoy, and that's certainly the case here. There isn't a great deal of dialogue in The Bourne Ultimatum, and this might certainly please audiences who are much more interested in seeing Bourne in action than in languishing scenes of CIA ops or in his dalliances with the lady of his life. It's a pure adrenaline rush that starts with a bang and continues on until its ending that hearkens back to the first film's opening scenes, bringing us full circle through moments in the series. Many events in the film mirror those of previous entries, from new hair styles, car crash aftermaths, and bits of dialogue that get intentionally recycled. The leftovers analogy continues -- it's the consumption of the same stuff we had yesterday, but in different proportions. We ate most of the meat yesterday, but we still have plenty of the potatoes to keep us full.
The Bourne Ultimatum is worthwhile for fans of the series, but if there is a fourth installment, I very much hope it returns us back to a furthering of the story, new plot developments, and different characters. Ultimatum is like listening to a remix album of songs by artists we love, enjoying the new wrinkles added to familiar rhythms. However, at the same time, when much of the movie is spent in the past, and what's new is mostly a response to things we've seen before, it leaves us almost exactly where we started off before the film begins. Action purists will be satiated, but those expecting meals to have more meat and less leftover potatoes will be left hungry for more.
©2007 Vince Leo