Should I Watch..? The Bourne Supremacy
What's the big deal?
The Bourne Supremacy is an action spy thriller film released in 2004 and is the second film in the Jason Bourne franchise. Taking place after the events of the previous movie The Bourne Identity, the movie follows Bourne - a ex-CIA assassin suffering from amnesia - as he pursues his former employers to learn more about his shadowy past. Although it shares the name of Robert Ludlum's novel "The Bourne Supremacy", the screenplay is completely different to the source novel as it adopts a more contemporary setting. English director Paul Greengrass takes over the director's chair from Doug Liman and introduces a more personal and darker experience than before. The film was well received by critics and took $288 million at the global box office, slightly more than its predecessor.
What's it about?
Some two years after evading capture in Paris, Jason Bourne and Marie are quietly living low in Goa although Bourne still spends time looking over his shoulder. In Berlin, Russian secret agent Kirill is busy framing Bourne for the murder of CIA agents and the theft of $20 million in allocated "black money". Travelling to India to conveniently kill Bourne and cover his tracks, Kirill accidentally shoots Marie which causes their vehicle to crash into a river.
Bourne finds that he has no choice but to return to action in order to find out why he was being targeted. While former Treadstone boss Ward Abbott leads Deputy Director Landy to believe that Bourne has gone rogue, Bourne returns to Europe and quickly realises that his former employers want him dead and he must unravel more of his past in order to shut Treadstone down for good. Meanwhile, Kirill learns that his job is not yet over and heads off to Berlin to finish the job...
Deputy Director Pamela Landy
Nicholette "Nicky" Parsons
Tony Gilroy *
Release Date (UK)
13th August, 2004
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
Greengrass's direction throws us straight into the action, giving the film a quasi-documentary feel and enhancing the Cold War plausibility ever further. The action is competently staged and again, because of a refusal to use much in the way of CG, it's an easy film to believe in in spite of the script. But while its predecessor was happy to focus on one man, Bourne in this film is part of a much bigger conspiracy that goes to the very top of US politics. It's much grander in scope as the story travels from India to Europe to Russia and it feels like a traditional spy film instead of a straight-up action film.
Damon once again excels as Bourne, wrestling with his past whilst seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. Cox also steps up and delivers a solid performance as Abbott whose ruthless approach to Treadstone knows no limits. But I felt Joan Allen was the film's breakout star - her performance as Landy gives the film another dimension as both her and Bourne attempt to unravel Abbott's web of deceit. Urban hasn't much to do in the way of acting - his scenes are nearly all stunt-work - but he certainly looks the part.
- When Bourne calls Landy in her office, one of her people is heard saying they need 90 seconds to triangulate his position. Bourne ends the call after 88 seconds.
- There was never any intention of making a sequel to The Bourne Identity but once it was green-lit, director Doug Liman was frozen out of talks after creative differences with the studio, allowing Greengrass to become director.
- The film was shot in reverse order - the first scenes filmed were in Moscow and the last to be shot were the opening scenes in Goa in India.
What's not to like?
The Bourne Supremacy might reign supreme over its predecessor as an action film but I'm afraid it does make a few errors. Potente is tragically wasted as Marie, meaning that Bourne is robbed of someone to interact with regularly besides a few mocking phone calls to his pursuers. The same can be said of Stiles who feels surplus to requirements other than to provide continuity between this and the first film. And while the action is realistic and satisfying, Greengrass's style isn't best suited to it - the camera lurches about horribly and means the action is largely blurred, incoherent and hastily edited together.
It isn't just the action that's hard to follow either. The script is utterly mangled once Bourne's quest for vengeance begins and without the addition of deleted scenes on the DVD, I wouldn't have a clue what was going on. I can't recall, for example, why Bourne went to Nice when the action was clearly in Berlin or why Julia Stiles' character was being thrown back into action after her failures in the last movie. The dialogue might sound full of the technical jargon and political wrangling the material deserves but a little exposition would have been nice.
Should I watch it?
It doesn't reach the same heights as The Bourne Identity but this remains a superior and enjoyable spy film with plenty of action and a story that demands attention. Greengrass has crafted a different Bourne to Liman, one which feels closer to its audience but isn't as reliant on such a strong story. The Bourne Supremacy feels like a Cold War-era Bond film with modern action sequences and while it doesn't bury 007 like the first film did, it's still good enough to give the old boy a bloody nose.
Great For: action fans, Greengrass's reputation
Not So Great For: people who enjoyed the first film or Ludlum's books, viewers with short attention spans
What else should I watch?
The more time goes by, the more I appreciate The Bourne Identity which manages the difficult trick of being both an excellent action movie and a gripping spy thriller that makes the most of its outlandish premise. The same can also be said for The Bourne Ultimatum which just about manages to cling onto a decent story in between equally impressive action sequences. Although the series continues with the Damon-less The Bourne Legacy and the Damon-full Jason Bourne, the general consensus is that the first three are the ones to stick with.
It is worth remembering that the 007 series had gone into one of its hibernation periods at this point, assessing where to take the series after the disastrous Die Another Day. With Bourne pointing them in the right direction, the answer was Casino Royale which dispensed with Bond's cinematic history entirely and started behaving like a proper spy film again. The results were stunning and without doubt, one of the best Bond films seen for a very long time. It also reinvigorated a series that had grown increasingly stale since Connery left for good in 1971.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox