When last we saw former assassin and current amnesiac Jason Bourne (at the end of 2002’s The Bourne Identity), he’d cut ties to his past (with extreme prejudice, killing the head of the super secret CIA black ops organization Treadstone) and warned his former masters never to come looking for him again, lest unholy vengeance be visited upon them as only someone who’s spent extended periods of time with Ben Affleck is capable of. So what does the CIA do? Well…nothing, actually. He asked nicely, after all.
No, in “The Bourne Supremacy,” our protagonist faces a new enemy; a Russian oil magnate who sends an implacable hitman with the improbable name of Kirill (Karl Urban in a decidedly non-“LotR” role), to Goa, India to kill Jason Bourne. Bourne escapes the assassination attempt, but emerges mistakenly convinced that Treadstone has reneged on its promise to leave him alone. In a move that is only slightly off-kilter logically, he decides to take the fight to them.
Of course, Bourne soon learns Gretkov (the aforementioned Russian) has framed him for killing two CIA operatives in Berlin who were attempting to obtain files pertaining to one of the Russian’s oil deals. Understandably irked at the snafu, CIA coordinator Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) begins hunting around for more information on the elusive Bourne. Her investigation leads her to the long-buried Treadstone files and also to a run-in with Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), former head of the program. The two are sent to Berlin, stopping only to pick up former Treadstone liaison Nicky (Julia Stiles), where a slam-bang showdown awaits, yes?
Well, sort of. One thing you may notice about “The Bourne Supremacy” is the relative paucity of action compared to the first film. “Supremacy” is really more of a chase movie (think an EU version of “The Fugitive”). There are the obligatory scenes where Bourne demonstrates that his kung fu is still the best (including a melee with the other surviving Treadstone assassin), but much of the movie is devoted to Bourne looking for clues to who set him up, as well as trying to piece together the flashbacks he keeps suffering, flashbacks that reveal the beginning of his career.
“Supremacy” is, minor quibbles aside, a worthy successor to “The Bourne Identity.” In fact, when the original opened the same year as his buddy Affleck’s “The Sum of All Fears,” I knew comparisons between the two were inevitable and “Sum” would not fare well. Sure enough, “The Bourne Identity” was the more critically (and financially) successful film. This was thanks, in part, to the less cartoony premise (and because Bourne didn’t go driving around ground zero right after a nuclear bomb went off). “The Bourne Identity” also lacked the glossy blockbuster look of “Sum,” and “Supremacy” is no different, interrupting the bleak patina only for nighttime shots and the film’s tropical intro.
Admittedly, some audiences may find “Supremacy’s” camera style somewhat off-putting. Several scenes are filmed in a fairly shaky handheld fashion which, though not on the scale of “The Blair Witch Project,” may be a bit annoying. Others may think it enhances the urgency Bourne feels as he searches for answers. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it.
The performances are strong throughout, with Damon ably continuing his role of the killing machine with a deadly Purpose. His memory may be spotty, but Bourne is still capable of abrupt brutality (as Nicky finds out). The question of whether or not he’s capable of ignoring his training/brainwashing isn’t resolved as easily. Urban’s complementary assassin is adequate, though all that’s really required of him is to look evil in a sophisticated, Eurotrash kind of way. Cox’s Abbott is sufficiently rodent-like. However (and staying with the “Fugitive” metaphor a little longer), Joan Allen – as Sam Gerard to Damon’s Dr. Kimble – gets too little screen time to offer us any real handle on her character.
Finally, in this era of The Fast and the Furious, Torque, and other computer-generated vehicular crapola, I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing it is to see a car chase involving actual cars. “The Bourne Supremacy” is framed by two such sequences. The first, between Bourne and Marie in a Land Rover (don’t hold me to that, I’m not very up on my SUVs) and Kirill in a Lexus, is adequate, if perfunctory (and more notable for how it ends, anyway). The second, climactic chase, which winds through the streets of Moscow for a good chunk of the film’s final third, is better than just about any similar chase scene in the last decade, including the Cooper Mini chase in “The Italian Job.” In fact, I’d rate “Supremacy’s” Moscow sequence up there with “To Live and Die in L.A.” or “Ronin” (and maybe even “The French Connection”). It’s one of the few times in recent memory that I can remember, at the end of a car chase, the sound of the audience exhaling en masse after holding their breath. “The Bourne Supremacy” would come recommended even without that sequence, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
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