Should I Watch..? The Bourne Ultimatum
What's the big deal?
The Bourne Ultimatum is an action spy thriller film released in 2007 and was originally billed as the conclusion to the Jason Bourne trilogy, though it was followed up by subsequent films. It is loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name although the movies follow a different continuity. Directed by Paul Greengrass who also directed the preceding film The Bourne Supremacy, the movie follows Bourne as he attempts to lay the ghosts of his past to rest whilst discovering a similar program is now targeting him. This is Matt Damon's most financially successful film with him in the lead, grossing some $440 million dollars worldwide as well as winning three Academy Awards. A fourth film - The Bourne Legacy - was released afterwards in 2012 although neither Greengrass or Damon returned to the series for that film. Both would return in 2016 for the fifth film, simply titled Jason Bourne.
What's it about?
Laying low in Moscow after his pursuit of Kirill, Jason Bourne discovers that a British journalist - Simon Ross - has uncovered information about Project Blackbriar, a follow-up to the original Treadstone program that Bourne was a part of. Bourne heads to London to meet Ross but the CIA are already on to them and before Bourne can find anything out, Ross is murdered by Paz, a Blackbriar assassin.
Deputy Director Noah Vosen, who runs Blackbriar, discovers who leaked the information to Ross and proceeds to send men there. But Bourne is suddenly one step ahead although he re-encounters Nicky Parsons, an assistant who used to work on Treadstone. Working together, Bourne decides that the only way he can prevent himself being chased forever is to go directly to the source and as he begins to make his way to America, the net around him closes ever tighter...
Nicholette "Nicky" Parsons
CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy
CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen
Dr Albert Hirsch
CIA Director Ezra Kramer
Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns & George Nolfi *
Release Date (UK)
17th August, 2007
Action, Spy, Thriller
Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
What's to like?
Retaining the same director certainly helps improve continuity as The Bourne Ultimatum has the same blistering level of stunt-work and action scenes as the previous films had. A little story cohesion has been sacrificed but the overall feel of the film is one that refuses to indulge in action for the sake of it. Greengrass knows that the series isn't based on old-school stunt work anyway and elicits another solid performance from Damon as the amnesiac super-spy. Stiles is finally given something meaningful to do and Allen thoroughly deserves another outing as the torn consultant brought in by Vosen to help bring Bourne back in.
Greengrass's style remains as divisive as ever, though. His documentary-like camerawork throws you into the picture which allows you to feel every gunshot, punch, kick and car crash with horrible brutality. But in scenes where there is dialogue, it's not so good and distracts you from what might possibly be crucial pieces of information. But the film is also smart enough to refer back to the previous two films and acts as a decent finale for what has been a gripping and influential series of films.
- The film-makers were denied permission to shoot in London Waterloo station, meaning they had to go in incognito to do it. If you look carefully, you'll see regular members of the public pointing at the cameras.
- As in the previous films, Bourne uses a combination of martial arts - namely Filipino Kali and Jeet Kune Do, the style used by Bruce Lee. The character Desh uses these combined with yet another, Brazilian Capoeira.
- Matt Damon's final words as Bourne in the film are the exact same as those spoken by The Professor before he dies in The Bourne Identity.
What's not to like?
Maybe it's just me but I never really got hold of the film's plot. I never worked out why Bourne and Nicky had to go to Tangiers or how Bourne even learned about Ross's work on Blackbriar. And I certainly didn't approve of the ambiguous nature of Jason and Nicky's past - if there had been a relationship before he lost his memory, surely she wouldn't have been allowed to continue working with him? Anyway, the film's action sequences distracted me from asking too many questions at the time.
In some respects, it does feel as though they felt the action would be enough to carry the film. The story is essentially a retread of The Bourne Supremacy as Bourne continues to fill in the blanks in his head. Greengrass throws every trick he knows into the film - destructive car crashes, free-running, a sizable chunk of martial arts - but the what the film needed was a spark of magic. What made The Bourne Identity stand out from the crowd was how surprising it was and also how fresh it still feels. By contrast, this feels a little bit like reheated leftovers and by moving the action to America for the finale, it then becomes the same as any other big budget spy flick. And after all is said and done, I still had too many unanswered questions at the end and who enjoys a film that leaves those hanging around?
Should I watch it?
It's a fine way to end what has been an enjoyable series but The Bourne Ultimatum misses some of the magic that shone from the earlier movies. It's packed with action, stunt-work and plenty of hand-wrangling CIA agents getting nervous but the film lacks any real sense of cohesion and the plot is all too easily lost. Action fans will get the most out of it but regardless, this is a great film to bid farewell to Jason Bourne.
Great For: action lovers, globe trotters, fans of the earlier movies
Not So Great For: Ludlum readers, Guardian journalists
What else should I watch?
For my money, The Bourne Identity remains the best in the series - its plot is easier to follow and has some degree of resolution at the end, the action is just as spectacular without being overblown and the wintery European setting makes it feel like a proper Cold War spy flick. The Bourne Supremacy lacks the surprise of the first film but maintains a decent storyline whilst stil delivering on the action front - even if it does kill off Franka Potente's wonderful Marie way too early for my liking.
I failed to see how The Bourne Legacy could genuinely compete without having Bourne in it but it's a good film in its own right. Jeremy Renner, who took over from Damon as the lead, gives a fabulous performance as a different CIA operative also in a spot of bother but the film suffers by trying to be a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne in it. There's a nagging sense that it was an attempted reboot instead of a continuation...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox