Bourne Supremacy, The (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Bourne Supremacy is a serviceable thriller - no more, no less. This may come as a disappointment to those anticipating something on the same level as the surprise hit 2002 movie, The Bourne Identity. Sadly, the cinematic second installment of Robert Ludlum's trilogy falls short of its predecessor in almost every area, except perhaps acting. There's nothing wrong with any of the performances in this movie; it's just that the actors aren't as important as they were two years ago. Action has moved to the fore, shouldering aside plot and character development in order to maintain the frantic pace that director Paul Greengrass believes is necessary to retain his audience's attention.

The Bourne Supremacy opens two years after The Bourne Identity closed, with Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) having settled down with his girlfriend, Marie (Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame). Now, it appears someone with the worst of intentions has found them. Not only is a killer (Karl Urban) dispatched remove Bourne, but he is framed for the murder of a CIA agent in Berlin. This brings the agency back into the picture. The "find Bourne" team is led by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Bourne's old boss, Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). Thinking that the CIA is behind the attempt on his life, Bourne decides that the most appropriate response is to track down a few old acquaintances and remove them forever from the picture, thus fulfilling the promise he made near the end of The Bourne Identity.

At its heart, The Bourne Supremacy is a revenge picture. There's nothing more subtle or deeper going on here, although there is a secondary plot about a group of Russians. Character development is perfunctory. We learn a few more things about Bourne's past, and he shows signs of a conscience. However, he was more interesting in the last film, when he was foundering to discover who he was. This time around, Bourne is just a relentless killer, at least until the final 30 minutes, when he displays more compassion than we expect (or, in some ways, prefer).

After the initial 15 minutes of exposition, The Bourne Supremacy unfolds as a series of long chase and fight sequences. Some of these are more compelling than others. The final chase, in particular, is involving. Coming as late in the movie as it does, there's a sense that it will lead to a resolution (rather than the usual "oops, I lost him"). There are plenty of instances of hand-to-hand combat, and that's where the choice of Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) becomes questionable. The director of The Bourne Identity, Doug Liman, was able to present the fight scenes in a clear, no-frills fashion. In The Bourne Supremacy, there are so many cuts and edits that the fights devolve into an incoherent mess. It's better not to try to follow them when they're going on - just wait until they're over to see who's left standing.

On a number of levels, The Bourne Supremacy isn't as satisfying as The Bourne Identity. The culmination of Bourne's revenge spree against the agency, while it accomplishes the task, doesn't offer a good sense of closure. And the fact that Bourne spends most of the movie on his own eliminates the nice give-and-take between Bourne and Marie that helped make The Bourne Identity better than a generic espionage flick. Not having read Ludlum's novel, I can't assess whether the problem is in the source material or in Tony Gilroy's adaptation, but The Bourne Supremacy is less intelligent than its predecessor.

In the title role, Damon again proves that he has the makeup to be a decent action hero. He's more in the mold of a Mel Gibson or a Harrison Ford than an Arnold Schwarzenegger, but there's room in the genre for all kinds of actors. Brian Cox is suitably oily as the bad CIA guy, whose role has been expanded from the first film. Joan Allen brushes up on her ice queen image to give Bourne a more formidable agency adversary than Abbott. There are also brief appearances from familiar faces Potente and Julia Stiles, as well as a small-but-important part for Oksana Akinshina (the star of Lilya 4-Ever) as a Russian girl.

Although The Bourne Supremacy disappoints relative to expectations established by The Bourne Identity, it's neither unwatchable nor uninteresting. The continuity is strong (essentially everyone except the director is the same) and the lead character, while not as compelling this time around, is still worth rooting for. Plus, there's enough action to camouflage the thinness of the plot. Still, it's discouraging to encounter another sequel that can't live up to the standard established by its predecessor.

Bourne Supremacy, The (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 2004-07-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1