There are many problems that Jason Bourne seems to deal with on a semi-regular basis, but who would have thought that the amnesiac super-spy’s biggest obstacle was going to be his own success?
If you’re unsure about what it is I’m driving at, just cast your mind back to the end of The Bourne Supremacy, a movie that perfected the rough edges of the game changing original, that not only told gloriously polished Bourne adventure, but essentially capped the character off nicely by having him take responsibility for his murderous past and even learn his real name courtesy of benevolent CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy. With all that covered and so many loose ends tied off, where in hell could the trilogy possibly go to move the story forward when it seemed like the ballad of Bourne had reached it’s natural end?
Leave it to Borune to find an out-of-the-box solution to a complicated problem.
We pick up with the ex-agent moments between the two penultimate scenes of The Bourne Supremacy that saw an injured Bourne apologise to the daughter of a couple of past victims after badly wounding a villainous pursuer. After he narrowly avoids the police and treats his wounds, he’s rocked by more flashbacks from his misty past, but this time something is subtly different. This time he gets the faint whiff of a memory of his training which manages to give him a vague target of who to aim justice at next.
Elsewhere Pamela Landy is cleaning up the mess from the last time Bourne surfaced while reporting to Director Ezra Kramer while unaware that even though the shadowy programme Treadstone is dead, he’s given the nod on a new version named Blackbriar which is being run by Deputy Director Noah Vosen.
Vosen is currently aiming the butt tightening resources of Blackbriar at a journalist for the Guardian named Simon Ross who has learned of the entire Jason Bourne/Treadstone debacle through an informant in the CIA, but unbeknownst to all involved, Bounre has decided to interject causing the usual horrified outbursts of “Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne!”.
Armed with a legitimate lead, Bourne heads over to Turin to check up on Ross’ informant and instead bumps into former Treadstone operative Nicky Parsons, who volunteers to help him, but both find themselves in the crosshairs of a Blackbriar agent who has orders from a paranoid Vosen to exterminate them both.
While Landy desperately tries to keep the stubbon Vosen in check, Bourne continues following breadcrumbs that sees him end up all the way back in New York City, heading for his goal with numerous agents on his tail. Can he finally restore his memory and bring Blackbriar down once and for all?
Even though it may be technically cheating, the way that The Bourne Ultimatum wills itself into having a reason to exist at all is reason enough to grant it five stars. Ballsily taking the final scene of Supremecy where Bourne converses with Landy in NYC and then retroactively revealing it to actually taking place during the final act of Ultimatum is an act of cheeky brilliance that is exactly the sort of audacious storytelling that makes me love a handsomely mounted sequel.
And handsomely mounted it is, as returning director Paul Greengrass stages the biggest Bourne yet with the stakes higher, the car crashes more vicious and the foot chases reaching and all time high as all involved strive to continuously build on everything that’s come before to give one of cinema’s greatest secret operatives a send off worthy of his meteoric rise.
If we’re being especially harsh, there is a case that despite how spectacularly well made Ultimatum is, there is a slight feeling that the movie is merely just laying out the usual Bourne traits but only in a different order. There’s the usual smash mouth car chase that this time sees Bourne caving in half the cars in New York City, not to mention the token foot chase that bleeds into another brutally intelligent fist fight that sees our hero utilise a random piece of the scenery (this time a hardback book) to deliver a righteous ass whuppin’. The movie even sneakily chucks in a moment similar to the last film’s standout moment of having our hero repent for his sins as Jason confesses to the brother of his murdered girlfriend Marie how she met her end at the end of an assasin’s bullet meant for him – even David Strathairn’s villian is yet another variation of the entitled, overconfident, corrupt-with-power, white guy who abuses his post under the pretence of patriotism and that’s been previously portrayed by the likes of Chris Cooper and Brian Cox.
However, regardless of the fact that the Bourne formula (Bourmula?) could have been in danger of feeling overfamilar – audiences were on the verge of turning against rapidly edited fight scenes in particular – Greengrass once again keeps things moving fast while clearly stating each characters intentions and goals without resorting to talking down to the audience. Although, saying that, I’m willing to take Bourne’s ability to survive devastating car wrecks simply because he has vague grip on a seat belt on face value out of sheer goodwill… However, upon saying that, the poor cameraman who has to follow that stuntman as he leaps between buildings and through a window deserves to be bloody knighted.
Damon goes three for three with his signature character, keeping that all-important vulnerable streak alive from the first movie despite being an unstoppable weapon of steely faced justice for the second film in a row and Stratharin’s antagonist is more than proficient in barking impatient orders in a control room, but once again its Joan Allen’s Pam Landy who emerges as the sober voiced MVP of the whole enterprise who’s unwavering dedication to the truth means that all the blunt force trauma Bourne inflicts actually means something once the smoke has cleared. Also, I have to say the casting of Albert Finney as the architect behind the whole Blackbriar/Treadstone thing proved to be a stroke of slowburnung genius, especially after he was cast as the grounds keeper in Skyfall, Finney essentially raised Bond and trained Bourne.
If I had a gun to my head (while lacking any of Bourne’s lightning fast reflexes of cause) I’d have to say that Supremacy is my personal favourite out of the original three movies purely because it pioneered the more unique aspects of the character with that apology scene (seriously, it broke me back in 2004), but there really isn’t that much difference in quality between the entire trilogy – the continuing franchise, however? Not so much, but that’s for other reviews to discuss.
Coming around full circle in impressively satisfying fashion (Jason repeating Clive Owen’s “Look what they make you give” line from the original and ending the trilogy as he started, submerged in H²0) this is the near perfect end to a near perfect trilogy. Ultimatum is Bourne of greatness.