I really thought this review was already on this site, but I couldn’t find it. That makes it fair game for “From the Archive.” The motivation for sharing it this week seems pretty obvious, I suppose. So, this is probably already more than enough preamble.
In many respects, The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment in the film series following the exploits of spy Jason Bourne, is much like the first two offerings. These films aren’t like their equivalents in the Bond series: there is no new supervillain to be bested, no grand scheme for world domination to subvert. There is simply a dedicated, deadly man hampered by a faulty memory, trying to discover who he is, his efforts raising the fears of the government agency that once directed his missions. What’s different is that director Paul Greengrass has built upon the strong prior films and crafted an entry that is more taut, memorable and satisfying.
It’s especially fascinating to note the ways in which Greengras adapts the precise attention to procedural detail he mastered in United 93 to this film. When the government agents track Bourne from their war roo of technical espionage marvels, it’s hard not to recall similar scenes of air traffic control stations and F.A.A. offices in United. That lingering authenticity helps to ground Ultimatum, adding the tension of heightened plausibility to the most sensational scenes.
And there is no shortage of sensational scenes. The character of Bourne has been established as a extraordinary weapon, devastating in hand-to-hand combat and relentlessly driven. Greengrass takes those prompts to develop extraordinary action sequences. Bourne’s inventiveness in a fistfight makes him seem like a less whimsical Jackie Chan, and there are car chases that actually make that tired old trope of action movies seem relevant again. The scenes are kinetic and the handheld cameras swirl and bob and weave to keep up with it all. The images are shaky and woozy and yet always manageable for a viewer. There may be a desire to immediately rewatch a particular sequence, but that’s to admire the staging. Other films spur that urge out of a need to decipher mystifying cross-cutting.
The Bourne Ultimatum is tight and intelligent. That doesn’t necessarily give it emotional resonance, though. As Bourne makes fresh discoveries about himself and his history, it doesn’t have the gut-shot impact it should. In this instance, the issue doesn’t arise from indifference or a lack of capability. The moments intended to cut to the heart simply can’t compare with the great accomplishment of those that get the blood pumping through their daring thrills.