Bourne Supremacy, The
July 21st, 2004
Doug Liman's "The Bourne Identity" was a marvel of a spy film, and one of the best films of 2002. The sequel, "The Bourne Supremacy," continues the rush of watching unstoppable Jason Bourne, providing a multitude of great moments where Matt Damon can shine in this, his best role to date.
But Liman opted to sit this film out, handing the franchise over to filmmaker Paul Greengrass and his favorite weapon: the handheld camera, which effectively kills most of the fun and genuine energy of "Supremacy." When a CIA operation, lead by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), goes awry, and all signs of sabotage point to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), Landy starts to unravel the mystery around the rogue agent, and comprehend his rampage two years earlier. Uprooted from their peaceful India village, Bourne, and his lover, Marie (Franke Potente), find themselves in the middle of trouble again when the CIA and a dangerous Russian criminal kingpin set their sites on the couple, leaving Bourne scrambling to uncover his secret agent past to better understand his future.
2002’s “The Bourne Identity” was a breath of fresh air in a summer season of overwrought mayhem. A secret agent thriller that prided itself on restraint, immediacy, and stealth, director Doug Liman’s “Identity” rejuvenated the stone dead rogue spy genre, and proved (with huge box office) that audiences could respond to material that wasn’t excessive. The sequel, “Bourne Supremacy,” picks up the action two years later, and while the picture continues the thread of moderation in the action department, Liman opted to sit this installment out, and he is sorely missed.
Taking the reigns of the franchise is director Paul Greengrass, an industry veteran who found his greatest acclaim two years ago with the release of his Irish historical bloodbath, “Bloody Sunday.” While marked with terrific performances and a required fly-on-the-wall perspective, “Sunday” was really only known for one thing: Greengrass’s habitual use of handheld photography. When the filmmaker brings this same quaking aesthetic to “Supremacy,” the new film runs directly into trouble. Those prone to motion sickness should think twice about attending “Supremacy,” as it features copious amounts of gyrating camerawork, often blurring the image into celluloid pulp. The point is clear: to get into Bourne’s paranoid existence and Greengrass wants the audience to literally walk in his shoes. But the effect is obnoxiously overdone, and actually succeeds more at pulling the urgency out of the conflict than Greengrass’s quest to keep things gritty and “real.” Liman wasn’t a saint when it came to his editing of the action, but his restraint was unmistakable and appreciated. Greeengrass goes too far in trying to create pandemonium artificially, where Liman trusted the professionals he hired to make the magic happen. The difference between the films in this respect is profound.
What continues to be a compelling core to the two films is Matt Damon and his complex, cobra-like portrayal of Jason Bourne. The antithesis to the Vin Diesels of Hollywood, “Supremacy” returns that special kick of watching a dead-eyed Bourne suddenly spring into action and cripple a room of men in two or three moves. The new film heightens Jason’s skills slightly, detailing the agent’s abilities to defend a knife attack with a rolled up magazine, or his nifty use of a swig of vodka. Bourne is a more driven individual for this installment, so the thrill of watching the assassin’s abilities unfold before his stunned eyes is gone; now, the character is a pawn in a larger scheme rather than the focus of the entire movie. The film contains rock solid work again from Damon as Bourne, but it lacks the swiftly violent “fun” factor that was such a deep surprise about “Identity.”
In what has become a unifying element between the two films, “Supremacy” climaxes with a rough and ready car chase on snowy Russian streets. Perhaps waiting for his chance to compete with the Michael Bays of the industry, Greengrass pulls out all the stops for this finale, which is a little tougher than your average automobile tussle. But the scene is stuck in the quicksand of Greengrass’s nonstop camera zooms and shaking, again ruining what should be a home run of a sequence, and a real chance to send the audience home in a stupefied sweat.
Because the world of Jason Bourne was so meticulously arranged by Liman, “Supremacy” would’ve had to work overtime to truly screw up the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, “The Bourne Supremacy” is a steady, engrossing thriller. It’s more that Greengrass is a gifted director when situated in his own element (a last second cameo by gifted Russian teen actress Oksana Akinshina, from “Lilya 4-Ever,” was a nice touch), but he’s not much of a spy/action film director, especially coming after Liman, who clearly demonstrated a deeper shade of love for the characters and a desire to challenge genre expectations.
My rating: B-