Monday, August 06, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum Review

I was surprised how much I liked 2002's "The Bourne Identity," and even more surprised with how much I loved 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy." The first movie was smart, had a top-notch supporting cast, and seemed to value the intelligence of its audience. The second movie was simply awesome, taking the best aspects of the first movie and injecting them with nitroglycerine.

So needless to say I was pumped for this summer's B3. In the end I liked it. A lot. More than the first Bourne, slightly less than the second. Yet while the action scenes were actually better than "Supremacy" (the Tangiers rooftop chase and New York car pileup in particular), if you take away the stellar direction of Paul Greengrass, the all-star supporting cast (freaking Albert Finney!) and terrific music (I downloaded the symphony score from "Bourne Supremacy"--it's that good), "The Bourne Ultimatum" is a pretty standard thriller, complete with standard plot, tough-guy dialogue, and even the old favorite CIA status room where tech monkeys stare at computers and yell things like, "He's not on the grid!"

The first smart thing the Bourne series did was cast good actors all across the board (Joan Allen, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Franka Potente, Brian Cox). The second was hire good directors (Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass). The third was resisting the urge to plug in a soundtrack full of whatever Top-40 junk was hot that summer, and instead allowed John Powell to create a haunting and memorable score. The "Bourne 3" script is a 'C' at best, but every other detail about it is an A-plus.

Allen brings humanity and reluctant skepticism to recurring spook Pamela Landy. We learn that Julia Stiles's Nikki Parsons might actually be more than someone who looks 20 years too young to be in this series. And David Strathairn, so brilliant in "Good Night, and Good Luck", does his best to bring gravitas to lines like, "Let's move, people!" Because he's hamstrung by the dialogue, Strathairn never achieves the same level of menace Brian Cox brought to the bad guy role in "Supremacy," which had the killer action scenes but with also a deeper, more thoughtful story.

As for Bourne himself, I liked Damon's performance in B2 a little more. He's still good here, but in the last movie Bourne felt more caged, more human, more vulnerable. When he got punched we felt it, when he got shot at we held our breath. In B3 Bourne joins Bruce Willis's John McClane in the arena of "action heroes who used to be human, but can now get hit with a rocket launcher and walk away with barely an ankle sprain."

So in the end, as far as action movies go, B3 is good. Even very good. Yet beneath the stellar trimmings lies kind of an ordinary spy thriller. But hey, I'd rather have a A-plus action and A acting with a C-minus script than a bunch of B-minuses across the board.


Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

Which is sort of what I saw in the first episode of The Company last night. No great performances there.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Graham Powell said...

Meh. I didn't care for it. The action scenes were cut so fast that half the time I couldn't tell who was doing what to whom.

As for the plot - they can keep this series going indefinitely by making each conspiracy only a small part of a much larger conspiracy. All you need is a bad guy to say, "You thought *that* was what we were after? It's much larger than you know!" By the fifth installment, the conspiracy will reach all the way to Emporer Palpatine.

Also.. time for a *SPOILER WARNING*...

Nikki hints that she and Bourne have a history of some kind. But except for a brief flashback of the two of them walking down a corridor, they never bother to explain this!

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for a candid review with the right perspective. excellent action thriller with plenty of adrenaline inducing scenes, but a little generic on the script.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

I'm going to see it this weekend. I've been looking forward to it! I'm kinda hoping I end up disagreeing with you about the C-minus part!

9:56 PM  

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