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Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

Jason Bourne

Beware: This entry contains spoilers of the movie, and the comments section contains spoilers for the books. Consider yourself warned.

Forgive me, if I have a hard time putting sentences together in a coherent manner, but my brain is being actively jammed by horrid cover-bands and carbon-copy ‘trendy’ DJ’s with their ‘eclectic’ (read: carbon-copy) reggae collections currently devouring most of the peace and sanctity in inner Copenhagen, on this grey and otherwise Bioshock-worthy Caturday.

Now it might be because I honestly thought The Bourne Identity would suck big time when I first saw it, that I have grown to love it as much as I do. Because against all odds, it didn’t suck; rather it was a genuinely fresh action romp, and Matt Damon, as unlikely an action hero as he is, was perfect in the role as the lost-child-come-terminator, Jason Bourne.

The Bourne Supremacy, cool title aside, though, was considerably lesser movie for me. It delivered just short of what was needed in character moments and story progression, to keep the relentless and at times over-stylized and dizzyingly hand-held action sequences rolling along. And while I thought it was a gutsy move to kill off Bourne’s girlfriend in the first ten minutes of the film, it did cause the problem of turning Bourne into the Terminator for the duration of the film.

And where the first film had Bourne confused about his origin and abilities, relying on, and eventually falling in love with Marie. In the Supremacy, Bourne is responsible for no one but himself, and that really hurt both the character and the overall film.

Now, the Bourne Ultimatum is largely more of the same (not surprisingly, as it is the same director). But, it does manage to pull a few neat tricks out of its sleeve (the hair cutting scene was a nice touch), even if the story and character moments serve as little more than thin layers of mortar between the brick-like 20-30 minute long action sequences that’re what it’s all about.

And the action sequences are great. Immensely enjoyable, hard-hitting and with nary a one-liner spewing bald old man in sight; yay!

Somewhere between the first and this, the third movie however, Bourne turned from a reluctant action star into a machine-like icon. Some of it is attributable to the story, sure, but between the ‘is that Matt Damon on that poster, I can’t tell’ marketing campaign and Paul Greengrass’ fixation on style, it feels as if the last remnants of Bourne’s humanity are being sacrificed in favor of style.

Damon did a great job though, I still find him the most interesting action hero out there. But by now Bourne doesn’t really have a weak spot, making it hard to root for him.

And sure enough, there are quite a few differences between the first film and its sequels. One of the more interesting (which I might be imagining), is how the first film doesn’t make use of establishing shots when moving between locations, letting each location flow into the next, much like how Bourne and Marie witness it, from the seats of her Mini.

The sequels however, do. It’s interesting because I actually felt slightly confused by some of the establishing shots. At one time I wasn’t sure if we were in London or New York. It was great to see them not simply pulling archival footage of the Manhattan skyline, but still… You don’t need to establish the CSI HQ every time you cut there, me thinks.

Another interesting difference is the CIA’s seeming tendency towards hiring only trendy fashion-conscious model-worthy males as ‘assets’. When they’re not trying to kill Bourne, they spend most of their time in the gym working on their biceps or in second-hand markets looking for that one-of-a-kind shoulder bag or leather jacket. I think they’re all gay.

It’s all slightly too much style for me.

I do watch espionage thrillers to enter a world that would otherwise not be available to me, but Greengrass’ stylization is removing it from reality to such an extend that I feel it is hurting the edge it has over borderline sci-fi like James Bond.

Also, it’s becoming increasingly easier to spot the bad guys in the Bourne movies; they’re all top-level CIA men past their prime.

But, dammit; the fights are fucking cool, and the pacing ferocious and so I don’t feel too bad about any of it.

A few final things, that did however bother me a bit. First of all, the books must be garbage. Amnesia? Secret evil government training program? A tub where our protagonist was submitted to vicious experiments? I don’t know how much of this is in the books The books are apparently quite different from the movies, but this stuff is throw-away airplane novel material at best (or computer game material… Ehm; damn).

Either way, it is horrible! Just downright bad… But it does make for great, if slightly dimwitted action flicks.

But; Amnesia? Secret, evil government training program? A tub where our protagonist was submitted to vicious experiments?... It’s not even reminicient of… It is X-Men 2! Seriously! It’s the backstory of Wolverine, to the letter! Hell, Brian Cox was even in X-Men… Come on!

Finally, why in the hell did they change the end credits song? The first two movie both used Extreme Ways by Moby, but in Ultimatum, it’s some horrible bastard cover.

I love that track, and I was so pumped when Bourne was in the water, exactly how we first saw him in Identity and the strings of Extreme Ways open up, he starts swimming away. It’s such a perfect way to end this movie; and they fucked it up by using a cover! Fucked. It. Up.

It was a bit like having to sit through the raping of In the Air Tonight during the new Miami Vice (which is a case of style over substance to such a degree I would rather watch British soaps!).

Don’t. Do. It.

That, and they changed the credits sequence graphics once again. And they do use ‘oh noes, a firewall!’ as an excuse to do ‘stuff’, which makes me feel queasy.

Minor things, of course, but nonetheless.

Conversely, it was cool how the end of Supremacy didn’t occur until well into Ultimatum (making me scratch my head for the first half of the movie). Or how they still used a really old photo of Damon to send to assets and police.

Overall however, the fights will kick your ass, the car chase was damn badass, and it is very much worth both your time and money.

JournalMichael Heilemann