It’s no secret that I dislike 2002’s “The Bourne Identity”, which I feel is nothing more than the wanton raping of Robert Ludlum’s original novel. Imagine, if you will, an upstart without any proven material tearing to pieces the works of a great master, believing he can do better. That’s what watching Doug Liman’s version of “The Bourne Identity” felt like. And so, it’s without any anticipation or expectations that I approach 2004’s “The Bourne Supremacy”, which immediately, from the very first frame, alerts loyal readers of Ludlum’s “Bourne” novels that this sequel, much like the original, intends to engage in more wanton raping of Ludlum’s literary works.
The man assigned to ravage Ludlum’s prodigious talent this time around is Paul Greengrass, a director who believes the only way to frame a two-person conversation is to blot out half of the screen with the back of someone’s head, thereby giving the appearance of furry tribbles having somehow made camp on the screen. Greengrass’ other bad vice is to make the action scenes so incomprehensible that the audience will just give up and run to the bathroom to vomit from seasickness. Matt Damon is once again back as Jason Bourne, the CIA assassin with amnesia, who is now living in India with girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente) after the events of the original. With his past still haunting him in dreams, Bourne is forced out of retirement when dastardly Russian criminals frame him for the murder of two CIA agents, and Bourne once again becomes CIA target #1.
As Bourne rampages across Europe in search of answers and a way to strike back at those dastardly CIA agents (led by Joan Allen this time around, Chris Cooper having been killed off in the original), the audience has to battle to keep from barfing because of Greengrass’ incredible ability to shake the camera every single millisecond of movie time. Well, actually, calling what Bourne does “rampaging” isn’t really correct. Much of the film consists of Bourne fleeing from pursuers, and occasionally getting into a fistfight or two, just to break the monotony of all that pointless chasing, one presumes. It’s all very underwhelming, not to mention all very hard on the eyes and equilibrium, thanks to Greengrass’ erratic visuals.
Returning writer Tony Gilroy approaches “Supremacy” almost exactly the way he approached “Identity”, with an A-plot that takes up most of the film, and a B-plot that loiters about in the background, waiting to take affect sometime toward the end, even though it holds no interest to anyone, the filmmakers included. As such, the only real excitement the movie manages to generate is when Bourne is trying to learn why the CIA is, once again, after him. But since “Supremacy’s” CIA is identical to “Identity’s”, these people couldn’t track a rodent unless the rodent allowed them to. For an agency so obviously incompetent (at least shown in movies such as these), one has to wonder why filmmakers insist on making the CIA the omnipresent international bogeyman.
The script itself is rather amazing in its ability to be randomly contrived. One moment Bourne is a master spy, able to elude and entrap anyone and everyone, and the next moment he showcases the super spy skills of Don Knotts. Of course we all know why Bourne “slips up” periodically — because the movie had gone on for much too long without any action, so Bourne does something careless that ends with him surrounded and chased and shot at as a result. Repeat process as needed. In this case, it’s needed a lot, making Jason Bourne one very inconsistent spy.
One of the movie’s better moments, when Bourne turns the tables on the CIA by showing up with a sniper rifle in the building across from them, has already been spoiled by the trailers. Without that excellent “gotcha” moment, “Supremacy” feels like a retread of the original, with Bourne once again running and hiding while EEEE-vil CIA agents work in the shadows to corner, kill, or silence him. Why, it almost feels as if the filmmakers, having trashed the premise of Ludlum’s trilogy with “Identity”, had nowhere else to go. To wit: the sequel offers almost no resemblance to Ludlum’s novel beyond the most basic of premise (i.e. Bourne is framed), which bodes poorly for the third volume (should there be one). As a fan of the novels, the squandering of Ludlum’s talents by his cinematic counterparts almost make you wish they would just give Bourne a new name and stop naming the sequels after Ludlum’s works.
The one thing “Supremacy” has going for it is Bostonian Matt Damon, who remains quite good as master assassin Jason Bourne. Damon has that hard, focused energy that makes him a superior actor, unlike his fellow “Good Will Hunting” co-star Ben Affleck. The other familiar faces from “Identity” are Brian Cox (“X-Men 2”) as duplicitous CIA chief Ward Abbot, Julia Stiles as Bourne’s former handler, and Franka Potente, who has what amounts to a glorified cameo as Marie, Bourne’s lover. Joan Allen steps into the Chris Cooper role as the CIA boss in charge of hunting down Bourne, while Karl Urban (“The Chronicles of Riddick”) is barely onscreen long enough for us to even register his character’s name.
“The Bourne Supremacy” is certainly not a bad film, but it’s strapped with a muddled and uninteresting script, and the direction by Paul Greengrass makes one appreciate Doug Liman even more. The film gets 3 stars for slightly exceeding my expectations, but loses a half star for hiring Paul “shake it like a Polaroid picture” Greengrass. If you could keep from getting dizzy, or throwing up while watching “Supremacy” (especially during that long and very much incoherent car chase toward the end, where Greengrass showcases about 5 billion fast cuts in the space of 10 minutes), you are a tougher man than I.
Paul Greengrass (director) / Robert Ludlum (novel), Tony Gilroy (screenplay)
CAST: Matt Damon …. Jason Bourne
Franka Potente …. Marie
Brian Cox …. Ward Abbott
Julia Stiles …. Nicky
Karl Urban …. Kirill
Gabriel Mann …. Danny Zorn
Joan Allen …. Pamela Landy