The Bourne Supremacy Review
Whilst I watched The Bourne Supremacy two adjectives recurred at alternate intervals in my mind: ‘nonsensical’ and ‘silly’. Ludicrously over-plotted and barely comprehensible, The Bourne Supremacy would have fallen into the category of ‘ambitious failure’ had it not been crafted with such slick precision and suffused with an almost unending stream of thrilling action and hyper-kinetic chase sequences that are done with such finesse that they manage to discreetly mask a rather anti-climactic and overcooked plot. 2004 certainly yielded a lot of mindless cinema, but The Bourne Supremacy was one of the few examples that managed the commendable achievement of actually proving to be fun.
I didn’t much care for The Bourne Identity; it seemed little more than an attractive travelogue of glamorous European sights, interspersed with some admittedly impressive fights and car chases, whilst a wisp of human connection was barely provided by a somnolent performance from Matt Damon as the titular super-spy. Not much has changed for the sequel; Damon’s acting is still as flat as a board and the plot continues to corkscrew with a speed equal to the film’s almost epileptic editing and the dialogue is as jargon fixated as it was in the previous outing, but though the madness is as confusing as ever, it can’t be denied that it’s all very entertaining.
The multifarious plot strands all centre around one individual: Jason Bourne. After a pair of CIA agents are assassinated in Munich and an innocent Bourne is incriminated, the retired spy/hitman becomes a fugitive from his former employer, as a team of agents overseen by the indomitable Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and grumpy Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) doggedly pursue him across Europe. Meanwhile, Bourne has his own vindictive agenda to be sated…
Frantically paced action, tough talking negotiations and double crossings aplenty quickly ensue. What’s remarkable about the film’s success is its surmounting the issue that Bourne himself is not an especially interesting or empathetic character; he functions more as a clean slate for the audience to imprint their emotions upon in order to facilitate a vague compassion for him - in spite of the fact that he is effectively a remorseless killer. The scenes that truly engage our attention are those that focus upon the CIA’s hunt for Bourne and Bourne’s subsequent dramatic escapes and brilliant evasions. When the film redirects its attention towards Bourne’s personal vendetta, the tautness sags and begins to follow an unadventurous and predictable path. Without wishing to reveal too much, the final fifteen or so minutes feature a ridiculous display of faux contrition by Bourne that seems utterly out of character and unpleasantly self-indulgent, as though the filmmakers were desperate to affirm that despite the evidence to contrary given in all the scenes preceding it, Bourne’s humanity is beyond question.
The acting is generally fine, though only Joan Allen makes much of an impression with her fiercely intense portrayal of a mid-ranking CIA operative who’s in search of the respect of her male superiors as much as she is of the truth. After a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo in The Bourne Identity, Julia Stiles finally gets marginally more screen-time and Brian Cox provides able support as the markedly devious male counterpart to Allen’s character. To quote from the ineffably sage critic Peter Bradshaw this certainly ‘delivers some deafening bangs for your buck’ though don’t be too disconcerted if you end up discovering that the movie’s innumerable jigsaw pieces don’t comfortably slot together when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.
Picture: Since this mainstream Hollywood cash cow was released in 2004, it should come as no surprise that the anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is as meticulously detailed and stunning clear as one could hope, though the film's pseudo-documentary visual style does result in rather drab colours, and a noticeable quotient of grain.
Sound: The film's assorted gun fights, thumps, explosions and crashes are all rendered with ear piercing tenacity by a suitably loud Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
Commentary by Director Paul Greengrass: Like the majority of audio commentaries contained on new releases, the lack of a fully retrospective perspective on the movie (i.e. being able to fully assess the reaction to it and what impact - if any - it had) means that it never rises above being merely moderately interesting.
Deleted Scenes: No elaboration is given as to how this cut footage was intended to fit into the film, though most of the clips are spurious plot exposition and aren't especially involving.
Matching Identities: Casting: Too brief to be of any real substance, this featurette seems intent on hyping the feature rather than providing any worthwhile character insight.
Bourne to Be Wild: Fight Training: Behind the scenes footage that is, again, far too short and provides little more than a cursory glance at the process of staging the fight between Bourne and a former Treadstone agent.
Blowing Things Up: There's a certain perverse pleasure in reclining in an armchair and serenely watch a crew of stunt men risk life and limb with the aid of a variety of technological gizmos - though again, this featurette is too short.
Crash-Cam: Racing Through the Streets of Moscow: A rather good look at how the spectacular car chase was constructed, though don't expect anything beyond the vaguest of details and just watch the orgy of car collisions.
On the Move With Jason Bourne: A look at how the locations featured in the film were chosen. Surprisingly, it's reasonably engaging since it provides a fairly grim insight into the challenge of shooting the film's later sequences in Moscow.
The Go-Mobile Revs Up the action: The 'Go-Mobile' of the title is a complex device that enables the audience to 'be inside' a speeding car with Bourne, creating a more convincing car chase. This intimacy is facilitated by the 'Go-Mobile' which is effectively a pod that can be attached to the car, from which the stunt driver drives the car and performs a series of impressive skids etc. whilst the camera remains fixed on Damon, who needs little in the way of acting to convey the reality of the scene.
Anatomy of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase: Another concise featurette that centres on Matt Damon having to - almost literally - take the plunge and perform his own stunt by jumping off a Berlin bridge and landing onto a conveniently placed barge.
Scoring With John Powell: A featurette examining, as you might expect, the process of scoring the music for the film. I personally found it rather tedious, Powell's 'novel' use of music cues failing to really interest me - but then again The Bourne Supremacy's score never exactly struck me as being especially remarkable.
Keeping it Real: It's a pity they had to limit this feature to a paltry five minutes, since it details why the producers made the vaguely risky decision to enlist a virtually unknown director to 'keep it real' in regards to the film's style, by giving it (in Greengrass's words) 'a visceral intensity'. Quite interesting, but its brevity precludes the possibility of any real insight.
I think I can safely say that The Bourne Supremacy hasn't revolutionised the ever staling action genre, however it remains manically exciting for the entirety of its duration and has even given me hope that the proposed sequel, The Bourne Ultimatum, might actually be deserving of more than the wearily disinterested apathy that sequels generally inspire in me. The disc (which will probably be substituted by a special edition in later years if the aforementioned sequel is produced) might not provide a revealing exposé of the film's production, but it at least offers a high-quality presentation that should assuage the doubts of all but the most sceptical DVD buyers.