"The Bourne Ultimatum" is an action free-for-all

by JD Warnock on August 3, 2007

in Print Reviews

“The Bourne Ultimatum” is the best of the Bourne franchise’s three films. I went back and watched “Identity” and “Supremacy” just this week to make sure. “Ultimatum” is a frenzied journey that layers chase scene upon chase scene into a furiously paced action-adventure extravaganza that never lets up. Even so, I still miss Franka Potente.

“Ultimatum” hinges on the loosely-defined relationship Bourne developed with Pam Landey (Joan Allen) in the last movie. This time Landey is brought in as the Bourne expert to assist Noah Vosen (David Straithairn), yet another suspicious character inside the agency, in Bourne’s kill or capture. All the while Bourne is struggling to uncover the story behind his ever increasing flashbacks. He would like nothing better than to piece together the details of his history with Treadstone, the super-secret government operation that made him an assassin.

Between “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” director Paul Greengrass made “United 93,” which was easily one of last year’s most gripping and groundbreaking examples of filmmaking. “Ultimatum” looks and feels different than “Supremacy” in a multitude of ways– some obvious (the plot is way less convoluted) and some more subtly perceived (an even quicker pace and more frequent use of long shots).

As I mentioned, this film is largely a series of exciting chase sequences, both on foot and in cars. Greengrass’ highly developed sense of realism bombards the audience with a symphony of vehicular destruction that seems to focus more on the colliding machines at the moment of impact than we’ve ever witnessed before. The carnage appears more believable here, as does the damage to the vehicles. Unlike a slew of other Hollywood smash-ups where the hero leaves a trail of automotive devastation in their wake while they and their car are only marginally affected, in “Ultimatum,” Greengrass opts for a much more naturalistic approach. This is particularly evident in one relentless sequence in which Bourne leaves a stolen police car looking more like a used-up paper mache pinata.

In another riveting sequence, Greengrass follows Bourne through a massive chase scene that leads to a rooftop pursuit and ultimately ends in the most exciting and violent hand-to-hand fight sequence of the series, as Bourne takes on yet another super-agent sent to end him. Greengrass adds tension by showing the battle from overhead as the two trained killers slam each other into the walls of a tiny bathroom. This unique perspective shows off the exceptional fight choreography and captures a mortal showdown with all the visceral energy of two great white sharks trapped in a phone booth.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” definitely brings the action fireworks more proficiently than any recent films have managed to do, including the earlier two in the series. However, the consistent flaw with the Bourne movies is the weak plot lines that underpin the agency villains. Straithairn and Albert Finney are more than passable in their characters’ insidious capacities (as were Brian Cox and Chris Cooper before them), but somewhere in all the confidential files and computer tracking software – it just doesn’t play. The intention is clearly to show us that Bourne is redeemable. If what happened to him– that he was duped in the name of service to his country– was unethical, and we can see the faces of those who did this to him, then we can see clear to root for a killing machine and despise the corruption and evil that made him into a monster. The problem is that though three films and a handful of agency villains, it has become difficult to buy that there are this many evil masterminds of covert indecency on the same payroll.

Lastly, I miss Franka Potente. She brought a balance and beauty to the first film and added a further conflict to Bourne that made the character less of a simple action explosion and more a three-dimensional human in crisis. Julia Stiles’ character Nicky Parsons is finally given enough screen time in “Ultimatum” to allow her character to develop and have some meaning in the greater story. However, I maintain that Stiles was poorly cast in the first place, and is unable to bring the complexity that Potente’s Marie did in the previous films. Something about the beauty and the beast story line in “Identity” gives it an edge over the other stories, even if supreme action wins out in the end.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” is an unmitigated action free-for-all. What it lacks in depth of character it makes up for in kinetic energy and thrills. This was the last of the Bourne books penned by author Robert Ludlum, although there was a fourth book written by Eric Van Lustbader called “The Bourne Legacy,” so this may not be the last we see of Jason Bourne. As long as Greengrass is at the helm, I hope itis not.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michael August 10, 2007 at 10:21 am

Great review. I can’t wait to see it.
If you like Bourne movies (or even just the trailers), you’ll laugh at this send-up from Jimmy Kimmel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T23oNcCFriE

Reply

2 Michael August 10, 2007 at 10:21 am

Great review. I can’t wait to see it.
If you like Bourne movies (or even just the trailers), you’ll laugh at this send-up from Jimmy Kimmel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T23oNcCFriE

Reply

3 Michael August 10, 2007 at 10:21 am

Great review. I can’t wait to see it.
If you like Bourne movies (or even just the trailers), you’ll laugh at this send-up from Jimmy Kimmel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T23oNcCFriE

Reply

4 Eric Melin August 13, 2007 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the link! I was looking for that. Hilarious. It’s a fitting continuation of Damon’s “fued” with Kimmel.

Reply

5 Eric Melin August 13, 2007 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the link! I was looking for that. Hilarious. It’s a fitting continuation of Damon’s “fued” with Kimmel.

Reply

6 Eric Melin August 13, 2007 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the link! I was looking for that. Hilarious. It’s a fitting continuation of Damon’s “fued” with Kimmel.

Reply

7 David Bruce Murray August 31, 2007 at 8:05 pm

The only thing I really hated about this film was the trailer. They gave away WAY too much. Consider the scene where Bourne was in the guy’s office, for example. That would have been much more effective if everyone in the theater didn’t already know it was coming.

Not sure if I would agree that this topped the first film, but then, I didn’t go back and watch the earlier installments for the sake of comparison.

Reply

8 David Bruce Murray August 31, 2007 at 8:05 pm

The only thing I really hated about this film was the trailer. They gave away WAY too much. Consider the scene where Bourne was in the guy’s office, for example. That would have been much more effective if everyone in the theater didn’t already know it was coming.

Not sure if I would agree that this topped the first film, but then, I didn’t go back and watch the earlier installments for the sake of comparison.

Reply

9 David Bruce Murray August 31, 2007 at 8:05 pm

The only thing I really hated about this film was the trailer. They gave away WAY too much. Consider the scene where Bourne was in the guy’s office, for example. That would have been much more effective if everyone in the theater didn’t already know it was coming.

Not sure if I would agree that this topped the first film, but then, I didn’t go back and watch the earlier installments for the sake of comparison.

Reply

10 vaberella December 3, 2007 at 9:49 am

I find the poster wrong in regards to Nikki Parsons character. Her relationship with Bourne is not beauty and the beast to reflect angel versus devil. Yes, Marie was an innocent in all of this and unfamiliar with how far governments will go to fulfill an initiative. But when we look at Nikki she’s already in the lion’s den. She’s the Lion’s secretary so to speak. She knows what’s going on and how far they’ll go. She’s a psychologist. So she’s not innocent in all of this, she definitely in Ultimatum just wants to get out after seeing how far things have gone in the last two and really finding out unwanted truths. Truths she probably tried to hide from herself and/or ignored.

Nikki in effect was Bourne before the training. I think that’s why Bourne also kept her alive and she also proved to possibly have a relationship with Bourne of some kind before the Wombosi mission. Nikki was idealistic and had dreams and aspirations. But she wasn’t innocent. And Bourne’s situation surfaced things she couldn’t ignore and maybe they had something in the past.

I find the Beauty/Beast anology for Nikki unfair and totally incorrect characterization. For Marie, it’s fitting, there is no doubt. For Nikki it is not and therefore I find has no relation to Julia Stiles. Julia was picked beautifully because she’s giving what I saw from Bourne when he was searching for his identity in Identity…there’s this knowledge that he’s more than meets the eye but hoping for the best. She’s definitely working for an uncouth group of people and knows it but then she has a choice of living or dieing and by Ultimatum she will go very far to get out of the situation and hopefully alive.

Reply

11 vaberella December 3, 2007 at 9:49 am

I find the poster wrong in regards to Nikki Parsons character. Her relationship with Bourne is not beauty and the beast to reflect angel versus devil. Yes, Marie was an innocent in all of this and unfamiliar with how far governments will go to fulfill an initiative. But when we look at Nikki she’s already in the lion’s den. She’s the Lion’s secretary so to speak. She knows what’s going on and how far they’ll go. She’s a psychologist. So she’s not innocent in all of this, she definitely in Ultimatum just wants to get out after seeing how far things have gone in the last two and really finding out unwanted truths. Truths she probably tried to hide from herself and/or ignored.

Nikki in effect was Bourne before the training. I think that’s why Bourne also kept her alive and she also proved to possibly have a relationship with Bourne of some kind before the Wombosi mission. Nikki was idealistic and had dreams and aspirations. But she wasn’t innocent. And Bourne’s situation surfaced things she couldn’t ignore and maybe they had something in the past.

I find the Beauty/Beast anology for Nikki unfair and totally incorrect characterization. For Marie, it’s fitting, there is no doubt. For Nikki it is not and therefore I find has no relation to Julia Stiles. Julia was picked beautifully because she’s giving what I saw from Bourne when he was searching for his identity in Identity…there’s this knowledge that he’s more than meets the eye but hoping for the best. She’s definitely working for an uncouth group of people and knows it but then she has a choice of living or dieing and by Ultimatum she will go very far to get out of the situation and hopefully alive.

Reply

12 vaberella December 3, 2007 at 9:49 am

I find the poster wrong in regards to Nikki Parsons character. Her relationship with Bourne is not beauty and the beast to reflect angel versus devil. Yes, Marie was an innocent in all of this and unfamiliar with how far governments will go to fulfill an initiative. But when we look at Nikki she’s already in the lion’s den. She’s the Lion’s secretary so to speak. She knows what’s going on and how far they’ll go. She’s a psychologist. So she’s not innocent in all of this, she definitely in Ultimatum just wants to get out after seeing how far things have gone in the last two and really finding out unwanted truths. Truths she probably tried to hide from herself and/or ignored.

Nikki in effect was Bourne before the training. I think that’s why Bourne also kept her alive and she also proved to possibly have a relationship with Bourne of some kind before the Wombosi mission. Nikki was idealistic and had dreams and aspirations. But she wasn’t innocent. And Bourne’s situation surfaced things she couldn’t ignore and maybe they had something in the past.

I find the Beauty/Beast anology for Nikki unfair and totally incorrect characterization. For Marie, it’s fitting, there is no doubt. For Nikki it is not and therefore I find has no relation to Julia Stiles. Julia was picked beautifully because she’s giving what I saw from Bourne when he was searching for his identity in Identity…there’s this knowledge that he’s more than meets the eye but hoping for the best. She’s definitely working for an uncouth group of people and knows it but then she has a choice of living or dieing and by Ultimatum she will go very far to get out of the situation and hopefully alive.

Reply

13 poze September 11, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Having not seen the previous two in the trilogy of Bourne movies, I was a little reluctant to watch The Bourne Ultimatum.

However it was a very thrilling experience and I didn’t have the problem of not understanding what was happening due to not seeing the first two films. Each part of the story was easy to understand and I fell in love with The Bourne Ultimatum before it had reached the interval! I don’t think I have ever watched such an exquisitely made, and gripping film, especially an action film. Since I usually shy away from action and thriller type movies, this was such great news to me. Ultimatum is one of the most enthralling films, it grabs your attention from the first second till the last minute before the credits roll.

Matt Damon was simply fantastic as his role as Jason Bourne. I’ve heard a lot about his great performances in the Bourne 1+2, and now, this fabulous actor has one more to add to his list. I look forward to seeing more of his movies in the future.

The stunts were handled with style – each one was done brilliantly and I was just shocked by the impressiveness of this movie. Well done.

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