The Bourne Supremacy Review
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) just wanted out, after discovering who he was and what he did, he didn’t want to do it anymore. Of course the people he used to work for didn’t want him to do it either, but they would prefer him to be dead, after all, rogue CIA agents are dangerous things. What if they starting selling secrets, or just turned against you for making them do all those nasty things. Luckily that isn’t a problem, Bourne still can’t remember most of the details of his time in the CIA, though he is still haunted in his dreams, and revenge is the last thing on his mind, he just wants to be left alone. Sadly, that’s not going to happen, as two people have just been killed during a CIA operation, and it’s been made to look like Bourne did it. It’s the perfect plan, he’s a man with a grudge against the agency, everyone knows he’d be capable of pulling off the job, all you have to do is kill him and nobody will bother looking any further. But wouldn’t you know it, Bourne isn’t an easy guy to kill.
The Bourne Identity filled a gap in the market, the James Bond franchise may well have been churning out reasonably entertaining spy movies for decades, but they were never remotely believable. Jason Bourne always felt like a real spy, not relying on the latest gadgets to get him through a situation, but just making the best of what he had available to him, and sometimes the best wasn’t all that good and things got ugly. Pleasingly, everything that made the first film so good has been carried over to the sequel, and even better the story doesn’t feel like a sequel, more a continuation, as the plot is wrapped intricately around the characters and events of the first movie. Once again taking to the bleak streets of eastern Europe, it’s not hard to imagine why Bourne was enjoying his life in Goa, winter in Berlin isn’t a great advertisement for the world of spying. Driven there in pursuit of Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), a CIA middle-manager that – due to the death of one of her agents – has started poking her nose around the files of the Treadstone Project. Bourne is as confused as the rest of us about what is going on, all he knows is the CIA wants him dead, and there’s no defence like a good offence. The real joy of the film is watching Bourne taking the offensive, he’s not the one being chased anymore, he constantly seems to have the upper hand, he’s always in control, he just isn’t getting the answers he needs.
The first thing that surprised me about the film was that it wasn’t directed by Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity. Now it isn’t particularly unusual for a sequel to change directors, even if the original was a success, but it is unusual for another director to so perfectly capture the feel of the original film. You’ll be hard pressed to notice a difference in either the look or the feel of the movie, of course much of that will be due to the similar locations and familiar cast, but credit should go to Paul Greengrass for staying true to the original rather than trying to impose his own style upon the project. Compare it to the Mission: Impossible movies and you’ll see just how much a director can try to bring their unique stamp to a film, and how disjointed that can make a series appear. He also deserves credit for his casting, whilst there weren’t many roles that needed filling there were two rather important decisions. Pamela Landy had to be able to hold her own with the boys, the CIA is, after all, an old boys club – particularly at the middle management level. So a woman in that world needed to be very strong, and Joan Allen was the perfect choice. It’s so often said that there are few really meaty roles for women in Hollywood, but Allen is evidence that if you have the ability and presence there are few roles written for men that couldn’t be played by a woman. She’s a powerful actress and never fails to convince that she’d be able to not only hold her own, but dominate in this man’s world. The other Key role was Kirill, the assassin sent to kill Bourne, who ends up being embroiled in the thrilling car chase that dominated the film’s trailer. Played by Karl Urban, who will be familiar to many due to his role as Eomer in The Lord of the Rings, he’s got a much grittier look, but makes just as convincing a killer. He’s a nice counterpoint to the Treadstone agents we’ve become familiar with through both films, their calm polished exteriors hiding the cold-blooded nature underneath, whereas Kirill wears his nature on his sleeve. And for a New Zealand native he does a rather good job of delivering a bit of Russian too. It is pleasing to see characters speaking their native language, it’s a detail so often overlooked to accommodate audiences that reel at the thought of subtitles, but that trend is carried over to the sequel as well, only faltering during one lengthy exchange. It makes no sense that it’s carried out in English, but then it would have been an awful lot of Russian for poor Matt Damon to learn.
The first film set a pretty high standard for action, Damon surprised many with his fighting skills and the mini chase was lauded with praise from all angles, in fact the only thing that really marred the original was the sometimes shoddy CGI sequences. I still cringe at the thought of the awfully superimposed Bourne falling down the stairwell and bouncing off a corpse. Luckily Greengrass has taken a much less artificial approach to the stunts in this film – a fact played up in the special features – but it is impressive just how much they have accomplished practically. The movie’s climactic chase, trying its hardest to outdo the original, actually succeeds very well, so much of the chase is shot from within Damon’s car not only is it nice to see the lead present through so much of the stunt work but being that close really draws you into the chase, it’s one of the sequences where Greengrass’ use of the handheld camera really pays off, keeping things frantic. It isn’t always so well used though, Bourne’s one encounter with a fellow former Treadstone agent naturally ending in an epic fistfight, but the frenetic fighting style, combined with the loose hand help camera can make things rather hard to keep track of, as limbs flail around the screen. The busy background does the job it was meant to – Greengrass mentions in the special features he really wanted the Venetian blinds to provide an active backdrop as they are crashed into by the fighters – but they do it a little too well, their movement, combined with the actor’s and camera’s fast movement making the fight almost a chore to watch. Again the handheld work draws you close to the action, but really putting you in such a fast scene makes you feel as out of your depth as you would were you really the one fighting Bourne.
Overall The Bourne Supremacy is a fantastically successful sequel, capturing the essence of the original movie to such an extent it really doesn’t feel like a different film. That’s not to say it’s a retread of the original, the role reversal of Bourne being on the offensive – although still just as confused as he was before – gives the film a different kind of urgency, but it just feels right. The acting is superb across the board and the direction is solid, it’s imperfect, but only just, roll on The Bourne Ultimatum.
As with the first film, The Bourne Supremacy has a gritty feel to it, meaning this was never going to be a shining transfer. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 the image is grainy and the colours are muted, exactly as they are meant to be. The Bourne Supremacy isn’t a glossy movie, and therefore it doesn’t have a glossy DVD, so the imperfections of the transfer all seem to be intentional. It isn’t a transfer to show off your system, but it is a transfer to further embroil you in the film’s feel.
Although Universal have a history of providing DTS soundtracks on their blockbuster releases, The Bourne Supremacy arrives without it, though the three different Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, in English, French and Spanish, may account for that. It is however, a great listen, ambient the majority of the time, when the action kicks in you’ll certainly know about it, and you’ll be feeling every blow and crunching meeting of metal.
Universal has not only provided a wealth of extras for this release, but also ensured they are fully subtitled in English, French and Spanish.
Commentary from Director Paul Greengrass
Greengrass flies solo on this commentary track, always a risky proposition, but he pulls it off reasonably well here. With a reasonable mix of trivia, anecdotes and stories of his inspiration, with only a little of the standards back slapping thrown in, it’s a good solo effort. Stories of which actors or stunt men Damon ended up punching by accident keep things entertaining, and he has the humility to admit when the talents of others (such as the 2nd unit director) end up making him look good.
Provided with no explanation these scenes are mostly rather short snippets, and although they do fill in a few blanks, they aren’t really blanks that need to be filled in. It isn’t important how Bourne gets hold of a car, he could have bought, found or stolen it, it really doesn’t matter. There are a couple of scenes of exposition revolving around Brian Cox, but neither of them would have done anything but grind the film to a halt, at rather important times so their deletion is thankful.
Matching Identities: Casting
This featurette looks at the actors in the major roles in the movies, though oddly looking at characters that were reprising their roles from the first film, so again this isn’t really about casting, but is a promotional reel for the film.
Bourne to Be Wild: Fight Training
This is a look at the frenetic fight scene with the other Treadstone agent, choreographed by Jeff Imada, who’s stunt work goes back as far as Blade Runner, but again sadly is just some behind the scenes footage with little depth. I would have liked to have seen more about the Kali involved, although Damon apparently learnt it for the first film so maybe there wasn’t much in the way of training done for this movie, but still there isn’t even an attempt to look at it that closely.
Blowing Things Up
This section focuses on a single stunt, involving a gas explosion hurling a number of members of the stunt crew quite a distance. Many would have been tempted to use a touch of CGI to ensure the stunt people were safe, but thankfully Greengrass assembled a stunt team more than up for the challenge of maintaining the realism of the film by getting ridiculously close to a huge explosion. Watching them practice using the wire rigs, wrapping the wires around them to see what strange ways they can make themselves spin as they fly through the air, you really do have to question their sanity, it doesn’t look at all comfortable, that’s for sure.
On the Move With Jason Bourne
This is a look at the fantastic location s chosen for the movie, and how they came to the decisions of where to film. The filming in Moscow was the most unusual, there aren’t many films that shoot there, and the crew certainly found out why. Shooting in the winter in Russia isn’t particularly forgiving.
Crash-Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow
Here we get to see how Greengrass set about making a better chase than the original film held, and how he got us so involved in the scene. Watching the stuntmen race through the huge Russian streets and causing some impressive crashes is great fun, but much like many of the features on this disc it is a rather superficial look – and the way the end of it is tagged with a message that the first film is available to buy on DVD now gives you an idea of the promotional aspects their pushing here rather than a real technical look behind the scenes.
The Go-Mobile Revs Up the action
The Go-Mobile is a fantastic invention, and one that you probably have to thank for the best car chases you’ve seen recently. Allowing a car to be driven remotely from a pod, which can be mounted on any side of the car, it allows the actor’s to be able to be sitting in the driving seat whilst the car is thrown around with the skill of a stunt driver. It’s a big step up from the old method of putting the car on a trailer and towing it around, allowing it to reach much, much higher speeds, and the look on Matt Damon’s face the first time he takes a spin in it makes it look more fun than your average rollercoaster.
Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase
In the spirit of realism Matt Damon got to jump off a Berlin bridge onto a moving barge during one of the movie’s chase scenes. This brief featurette – calling it an Anatomy of a Scene rather implies more detail than you’re going to see here – has a look at the stunts involved in the sequence, but not in much detail, though there are some funny behind the scenes outtakes.
Scoring With John Powell
The Bourne Supremacy is almost exclusively scored, rather than filling the soundtrack with well-known songs, and this featurette takes a look at how you go about scoring a movie. John Powell was keen to design the score in an unusual fashion, playing with the music cues to trick people, as we’re all so cine-literate now that music cues have become very clear signposts to events in the movie, he seemed to want to use that knowledge against us.
Keeping it Real
As the title suggests this is about how they kept the film feeling realistic, despite the rather unusual situations that Bourne gets caught up in. There’s a lot of talk about Paul Greengrass being the perfect director for the job, because of his previous movie Bloody Sunday, but nobody tells us what about that made it so perfect. Greengrass does talk about how he designed the film to feel unrehearsed and natural, but his comments are the only ones here that are anything incisive.
The film is fantastic, containing all the ingredients of a great thriller and more than successfully carrying the torch lit by The Bourne Identity, it makes you wish Robert Ludlum had written more than one further Bourne novel, though at least there’s little doubt we’ll be seeing that one on the big screen some time soon. The disc on the other hand is a disappointment, whilst from a technical standpoint you couldn’t ask for much more the long list of features are all disappointingly shallow. They feel more like the despised “First Look” features that plagued discs a few years ago than any kind of serious insight, I’d rather see a disc with half a dozen in-depth featurettes about subjects that don’t interest me than one overloaded with pseudo-promotional material that will teach me nothing. It’s doubtful though that we’ll see such a disc for this movie, this looks like the ‘loaded’ special edition version. Of course nobody seems to be beyond re-releasing perfectly good DVDs anymore, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for a better version, buy this one and enjoy the film, just don’t set much time aside for the extra features.