WARNING:SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE OR DON’T CARE ABOUT SPOILED PLOT POINTS!!!
Until yesterday, the only time I had seen the most-rented movie in America of 2003, the Matt Damon spy thriller “The Bourne Identity”, was during its theatrical release in the summer of 2002. Knowing that later that night we would be attending a screening of its new sequel, “The Bourne Supremacy”, my pal JoJo Longbottom (whose name is not nearly as suited to a trilogy of popular espionage novels as Jason Bourne) and I studied up on the backstory by watching the first one at home.
After a second viewing, my admiration for the “The Bourne Identity” grew. Damon’s Bourne is a bewitching brooder. Somehow, between searching for clues to his violent hitman past and keeping just one step ahead of skilled government assassins, he had time to form a relationship with a girl named Marie (Franka Potente). By association, she too is roped into the insanity of being on the run. The whole scenario was a bit unbelievable, but Damon and Potente managed to keep the film on solid emotional footing with the help of director Doug Liman. He managed to show a few choice, true moments of their peculiar courtship between some exciting action scenes that never got too inappropriate.
So it is with heavy heart and heavy eyelids that I report that “The Bourne Supremacy” is a different beast altogether.
This is where some may call into question my journalistic integrity. Somewhere around the middle of “The Bourne Supremacy”, I got a bit sleepy. Maybe it was the fact that it was around midnight. I’d like to rule that one out, since I’m well-known for staying up way past that hour on a quite normal basis. In fact, my old job required that I sometimes start right around that time after drinking more than a few beers even, so I’m used to late nights. Maybe it was simply too much Bourne for one night. After all, few can muster the strength for a double feature. But this was no epic ten-hour “Lord of the Rings” trilogy night (as I know there are dwarves and half-elves out there who have done), this amounted to just four continous hours of hot “Bourne” action.
No, I’ll tell you what it was that kept me teetering on the verge of Slumberland. BIG HUGE SPOILER ALERT-DO NOT READ ON IF YOU WISH TO EXPERIENCE THE MOVIE UNTAINTED AND WITHOUT SOME BIG JERK-ASS REVIEWER BLOWING IT FOR YOU! They killed Marie. Almost right off the bat. Before the first reel was even over.
Now let me be clear. I am the first one to applaud a movie for surprising and challenging its audience. It was a bold move to do have her shot dead. And so unexpectedly, too. A nice, non-Hollywood death. It was quick, he tried to save her, couldn’t, and that’s it. How great would it have been for the remainder of the movie to just go off on some crazy tangent and keep the audience constantly guessing wrong?
Well, unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Rather than just completely have Bourne go into revenge mode, we are to believe that his recurring nightmares of a past hit job are his primary concern. Of course, he cared for Marie and is heartsick about her murder, but what he’s really concerned with is some inward psychotherapy. How can he recocile his own murdering past with his desire to “go straight”, as it were? Never mind the fact that dozens of innocent people are killed and/or maimed during several supremely destructive action scenes while he wrestles with these demons. The movie is about redemption! Bullshit. From a franchise that tries to “keep it real”? I’m not buying it. What’s more, I completely lost interest.
Which is too bad, because there is one pretty terrific action scene. Director Paul Greengrass (“Bloody Sunday”) has a knack for jostling a viewer right out of his seat. (That is, unless he’s already pretty near a nap already.) The camera never stands still through any of the fighting, just barely able to follow the activity on the screen. “The Bourne Supremacy” contains a sure-to-be-legendary final car chase that doesn’t dwell on big explosions, but prefers you keep in mind the insanity of what could possibly happen next.
On the other hand, so much hand-held camerawork can ultimately backfire, as it obviously did for me. The action was sometimes a welcome relief from the standard Washington office scenes of people yelling on phones, trying to apprehend Bourne. Those were getting a little tired in “The Bourne Identity” already. So when an action scene came, I was ready to be amazed. Instead, I struggled to comprehend exactly what was going on. Sure, the sound effects told me someone was getting shot or punched, but who? And at what exact moment? Flashes of color and streaks of movement make for a striking picture, but only if you can see in what order events are taking place. And only if you care about who is in jeapordy.
And since Bourne (a man of little words anyway) had no one to confide in or talk to (like Marie, perhaps), the only dialogue taking place is more government agent prattle between Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and thankless others. The subplot that’s meant to keep us involved in those characters, by the way, is obvious and not very interesting anyway.
So what did JoJo think about “The Bored Supremacy”, you may ask? At least he was awake for the whole picture! JoJo, also a man of little words, said, when asked, “Decent.”
What was so strong about “The Bourne Identity” was the fact that we saw ourselves in Jason and Marie. What would we do in the same crazy situations they were thrown into? The time they spent together always seemed to be that of extreme high pressure, but it was nice to see a bond being formed. Damon has a lot of goodwill built up from the first “Bourne”, and the likability he brings to the role should not be understressed. Altogether though, he’s got too big a hole to fill in “The Bourne Supremacy”, and one crazy car chase simply won’t do it.