Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Summer School: 'The Bourne Supremacy' (2004)

Once again, I'm looking back at previous installments of some of this summer's returning franchises.

By killing off Jason Bourne's love interest Marie (Franka Potente) within the first 20 minutes, The Bourne Supremacy places its main character on a grim path of retribution, one that sets the tone for the rest of his onscreen adventures. The Bourne of The Bourne Identity was lost and confused but hopeful, in large part thanks to his connection with Marie. He attained a sort of peace at the end of the movie that Supremacy immediately shatters, even before Marie's death. Here, Bourne is suffering headaches and flashbacks thanks to his intense Treadstone training, and even when he and Marie are successfully off the grid, he can't escape the torment in his head. Once a corrupt Russian official frames him for the murder of two CIA agents, he has no choice but to spring back into action, ruthlessly tracking down everyone who's wronged him.

That makes Supremacy a bit less fun to watch than Identity, but it's no less entertaining, and it has greater depth as a character study. Marie may be gone, but Bourne gains a fascinating ally/adversary in Joan Allen's Pamela Landy, one of the series' best characters. While Chris Cooper's Conklin (here seen briefly in flashbacks) and Brian Cox's Ward Abbott (who gets an expanded role in this movie) were fairly one-dimensional foes in Identity, Landy is a competent spy with as much integrity as Bourne, who also values the truth over political expediency. She pursues Bourne out of a genuine desire for justice, believing him responsible for the deaths of her operatives, and she changes course confidently when she discovers the truth. The tense but respectful conversation between the two in the movie's final scene makes for a very satisfying ending (and would have even if the series had not continued).

Before that, though, Supremacy is another excellent action thriller, with director Paul Greengrass making an impressive series debut, taking over for Doug Liman. Some people complain about Greengrass' use of shaky, handheld camerawork, but to me it adds a sense of immediacy and edginess to the story, which is about someone who is constantly on edge and on the run. And Greengrass knows when to use the jittery camera to increase tension, and when to cut to a smooth overhead shot of a cityscape. There are some very good fight sequences in Supremacy, including one of Bourne's best moments, as he uses a rolled-up magazine to fend off a fellow super-assassin played by Marton Csokas. Greengrass also stages an impressive car chase that seems designed to one-up the chase in the first movie, although it does so by going so far over the top at times that it stretches credibility.

And for all his superhuman abilities, the best thing about Bourne is that he comes across as fragile and human. He's angry and hurt by the death of Marie, and by the government's unwillingness to leave him alone. He feels genuine remorse about the things he did as a government assassin, even if he can't remember most of them. Supremacy tackles the corruption and greed of clandestine government agencies and the oppressive nature of the surveillance state, but it all comes back to the anger and regret of one man who just wants to set things right.

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