Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summer School: 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (2007)

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

Like The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy wasn't necessarily conceived as part of a franchise, and its ending provides a nice bit of closure for Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), as well as some hope for his continued alliance with Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). Like Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum then ends up undoing a lot of the resolution of the previous movie, and it actually does that in a sort of devious way, setting the majority of its action in between the final two scenes of Supremacy. It's the kind of blatant retcon that I would expect more out of the Saw series, but even though it stretches credulity at times, I think it mostly works. It recontextualizes Supremacy's final scene into something much more tense, which is a bit of a shame, but it also then gives Bourne a more definitive ending afterward (which, of course, will be undone again by Jason Bourne).

This time around there are no external storylines about foreign targets that the CIA wants to take down; it's just Bourne and his quest for the truth, which puts him in the crosshairs of the series' latest evil, sniveling bureaucrat, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). Luckily, Landy is also back, and her antagonistic relationship with Vosen is a highlight of the movie, almost making her into a secondary protagonist. Also making a welcome return with an expanded role is Julia Stiles' Nicky Parsons, getting her greatest amount of screen time to date as she fully commits to being Bourne's ally, even going on the run with him. Returning director Paul Greengrass re-creates one of Identity's most memorable moments between Bourne and Marie (Franka Potente) with Nicky standing in, but she never becomes a love interest. Instead she's a source of comfort and support in a world that Bourne increasingly feels alienated from.

Greengrass continues his interest in bringing current events into the narrative here, as the movie starts with a journalist from the Guardian investigating Bourne's case, and one of the series' best and most inventive action sequences involves Bourne attempting to guide that journalist (played by Paddy Considine) to safety as Vosen's forces close in around him. That's the movie's action highlight, but there's also a very exciting chase through the streets of Tangier that culminates in a great hand-to-hand fight between Bourne and the latest inferior super-assassin the government is throwing at him. At one point he uses a towel as a weapon, which isn't quite as cool as when he used a rolled-up magazine in the last movie, but is still impressive. Stiles also gets to participate in the action a bit, as Nicky proves to be resourceful in fending for herself, even if she's not as powerful as Bourne (because, of course, no one on Earth is).

The movie stumbles a bit in its efforts to give Bourne closure, with Albert Finney showing up in brief flashbacks as the doctor who led Bourne's behavioral conditioning, and then finally appearing directly in the final act, after the main villain (Vosen) has essentially been defeated. It's hard to see this as the culmination of Bourne's entire search when this character has never even been mentioned in the previous movies (and barely factored into most of this one), but Finney does his best to make the confrontation meaningful, adding gravity to a pretty thin character. In the end, the return of Bourne's memory is less about any particular antagonist than about his own self-actualization, and the ending offers a bit of hope that he could be at peace -- hope not seen since the first movie.

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