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The Bourne Supremacy

There are four questions that immediately spring to mind when watching an adapted sequel:

1) How faithful is the adaptation?

In the case of The Bourne Supremacy, much like its predecessor, not very. I don’t think this matters much because I bet not one in 100 of you have read the books (as I have), but just in case, both these movies are only loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novels in question.

2) Did the same people make it?

Some of the people are the same, including many of the actors, and the writer is the same, but the director is different. More on that in a minute.

3) Do I need to have seen The Bourne Identity first before I see this?

I read several reviews that said no, and I suppose you would still enjoy this if you’d never seen the first, but for my money you’ll be a little bit lost and certainly will miss stuff. Better you rent the first (a great film) and then see this if you like that.

4) Is it better than the first one?

Let’s find out…

But first, the previews. I know, I know…I sound like a broken record going on and on about previews giving too much away, but I really am getting fed up. Last time there was American Treasure, which blew the plot, and this time there was Wicker Park (a woman obsessed with a man). Not that I’m excited to see any movie with Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor wounds run deep), but Brad Pitt’s girl from Troy is in it, so I might have glanced at it. But why bother now? I already know exactly what happens. Sigh.

The others were a mixed breed. Paparazzi looks entertaining (with the always watchable Tom Sizemore as the evil photographer), but I’m betting it puts a “Celebrity-friendly” spin on the whole thing. Not that people don’t deserve their privacy, but this was the life they chose, eh?

Then there was Collateral, a Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) movie starring Tom Cruise as what appears to be a hit man. Might be good. Jamie Foxx was in that, and he’s also the star of Ray, the story of Ray Charles. This has Oscar bait written all over it. I have to say; Jaime Foxx is turning into quite the Hollywood player. Who would have ever guessed that? Finally there is the long-awaited sequel to Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers. Even if Barbra Streisand were not in the film, I am hereby boycotting Ben Stiller films with the same intensity as Adam Sandler. This is the (I just checked) 7th film from Stiller this year, and if Dodgeball might have had dumb laughs, not a single one of the movies could be remotely considered good. Seriously, someone needs to talk to Ben.

Okay, back to Bourne. As longtime readers know, I am loathe to discuss plot in my reviews, figuring if you want the plot you can go see the movie or read someone else. (I would advise against that this time especially, as I fear most reviewers will ruin a key surprise). Anyway, I will confine my plot discussion to one sentence. In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne threatened the C.I.A. with total war if they came after him, and now they’ve made him extremely mad (the ubiquitous “this time it’s personal”), while meantime Jason is still trying to uncover painful secrets of his past. How was that?

Let’s talk about Characters. Central to that, of course, is Matt Damon. He really has become a fine actor. After bursting onto the scene in Good Will Hunting, Damon has continued to make fine choices with roles in films like The Talented Mr. Ripley, Rounders, and Ocean’s 11. Even if you didn’t like all those films (and you should), his performances have been nuanced and textured. (And if you’re in the mood for raunch, his cameo in Eurotrip is the funniest cinematic moment of the year thus far; bar none.).

As Jason Bourne, Damon does something great; he underplays the part. Where so many other action heroes (Bruce Sly1; I’m looking in your direction) would overplay the part, Damon underplays it. Instead of a testosterone-filled performance, we get a quieter, more thoughtful hero. There’s one scene where Damon literally doesn’t move for two minutes, and you know something’s coming (and trust me: it’s possibly the coolest moment of the movie). But, instead of doing the mano-รก-mano eye stare, he just goes limp. It’s beautiful. I also love how Bourne, as a spy, slows down when things get hairy rather than moving faster. It’s like he’s thinking on a quicker level, and realizes that haste is as big an enemy as those out to get him. More first class work here.

Joan Allen and Brian Cox are the two main adversaries (you may remember Cox from the first film, as the head of the C.I.A. program). Both are quality actors and quite underrated. (Seriously; you would give yourself a movie education to watch their various performances over the years. Too many to list here, but I’ll put a link at the bottom.) Needless to say, they are both in fine form here.

Franka Potente and Julia Stiles are two girls held over from the last film. Potente doesn’t have as big a role as I’d like, but she’s great. (If you want more of her I suggest The Princess and the Warrior and especially Run Lola Run). Julia Stiles is once again criminally underused here, but looks good in her new haircut all the same. (I guess she’s paying her dues, or possibly they’re setting up something in the future.)

What else did I like? The opening is sweet, as something is going down they’re not explaining. I like that, if it’s laid out well. The language is great too, everything from “black on black ops” to “she’s standing right next to you.” (You’ll see.) I like how Bourne acts when mad, “letting” himself be found, and the fear of God that puts in the C.I.A. The European scenery is great too; there is just no substitute for filming on location (when done right), to give it an authentic feel.

You could say the action is better; it’s certainly ratcheted up. We get similar fights, escapes, and a better car chase (that will make you appreciate the durability of Russian Taxicabs). I might quibble that they should have done some different-looking stuff, but when it ain’t broke….

As for the story, I’m not as sure. It is nice that they don’t have to explain the whole back-story (they allow the first film to stand in there), and can just jump right in. At times, however, I felt they went with a tad too much action at the expense of characterization (and they had wonderful characters to play with, so it could have worked).

About the only thing I really didn’t like was the camera work. Doug Liman directed the first film, and is considered one of the pioneers in hand-held camera work. (Check out Go or Swingers, or the pilot episode of The O.C.). Liman often does the shooting himself, and it shows. In Part 2 we get Paul Greengrass. He too is a devotee of hand-held cameras, but the difference is palpable. Hey, I understand the premise: they want the audience to feel the same emotions the characters are feeling. At times, though, the camera work borders on annoying and difficult to watch, and sometimes I wish they would pan back a bit so we could see some of those amazing stunts and beautiful scenery they worked so hard on.

This is, however, not a large matter. The Bourne Supremacy is good, arguably better than the first. I can virtually guarantee if you enjoyed Jason and company the first time around, you will so again.

Hyperion’s Ratings (for a full explanation, see #121):

Suspension of Disbelief Index (out of 10): 6. While they go out of their way not to give Jason Bourne super powers (and indeed; they show him hurt), much of the plot and the action takes a grain of salt to buy.

Genre Grade: As a pure action film you could give this an A-. As a Spy Thriller I’d say the same thing.

Pantheon Percentile (meaning 50 is an average film): This film stands up well and I’d watch it multiple times. What more can you ask? 78.


July 26, 2004


1 I would include Steven Segal here, but before you can “overact” you first have to be able to act.

Links: You can find all the movies by the various actors by clicking on their names at this site: http://imdb.com/title/tt0372183/


Thanks to Kimbo

Thanks to Aslan and Marcellus

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