It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Matt Damon starring Bourne films. In fact, the very last time I saw and thought much about those films was circa 2016-ish, when the fourth of the Damon starring Bourne films -but fifth of the “Bourne” films as there was the 2012 Jeremy Renner The Bourne Legacy– was released.
(For those interested, here’s my review of the 2012 The Bourne Legacy and here’s my review of Matt Damon’s last Bourne film, 2016’s Jason Bourne)
What perhaps is most memorable about those original three Bourne films (other than the fact that they were, SPOILERS regarding this particular review, pretty damned good) is that they seemed to revitalize the whole spy genre. When the first of the Bourne films, The Bourne Identity, was released in 2002, the last of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, Die Another Day, was also released. While that franchise seemed to be on the rocks -if memory serves there was even talk this last Brosnan Bond film might also be the very last Bond film made- The Bourne Identity seemed fresh and new, exciting and action packed… something the last few Brosnan Bond films lacked… at least IMHO.
Over the July 4th weekend and over on the SyFy (I still have trouble writing this title) they had a movie marathon which included the Bourne films. I missed The Bourne Identity (indeed, I don’t know if they showed that one at all) but I did wind up catching The Bourne Supremacy, the second Bourne film and the first to feature director Paul Greengrass (who would direct the rest of the Matt Damon/Bourne films) and was intrigued, after all these years, to revisit this film world.
The Bourne Supremacy, unfortunately, starts with the death of a character who was very prominent in The Bourne Identity. This character’s death, which nowadays would be classified as a classic “fridging” of a character , is probably the one big negative against the film.
(I was delighted to discover the term “fridging” was coined by the great comic book writer Gail Simone and refers to a Green Lantern story which featured the then Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, discovering his murdered girlfriend left behind in a… refrigerator…!)
However, the film moves like lightning from that moment on, showing the grieving Bourne going after the people responsible for that killing as he also tries to remember things about his past.
For those unaware, that’s the big “hook” of the Bourne films and what distinguishes them from your average Bondian spy flicks: Jason Bourne is an amnesiac spy/assassin and he is trying to pierce together his past while dealing with those who are responsible for that past. These people, it turns out, want to keep the fact that the U.S. had an assassination Black Ops program going kept very secret.
So the first film has our hero losing his memory and discovering he was a top secret U.S. assassin.
The Bourne Supremacy has our hero trying to lead a “normal” life but he’s brought back into the thick of things because of the death of the character I mentioned above.
The plot winds up being somewhat a repeat of the original Bourne story -and, indeed, this is one of the main weaknesses, IMHO, of the Bourne films, but I’ll get into that in a moment- with Bourne playing cat and mouse with the bad guys while dealing with the “agency” which doesn’t know what he’s up to but fear the worst from him, as well as the memories he’s trying to get back while also dealing with a villainous assassin (in this movie’s case, played by the underappreciated Karl Urban) who is an equal to Bourne.
In the end, I loved The Bourne Supremacy despite the character that was “fridged” and thought the action sequences and the movie’s ending, in particular, was incredibly touching.
For there is one other element about the Matt Damon Bourne films I really love: While he was trained to be an assassin and, indeed, was one until he lost his memories, the post-amnesiac Bourne is a man who loathes killing and feels particularly guilty about his hand in the assassinations he did commit in the past. The Bourne Supremacy is ultimately a film about Jason Bourne coming to terms with his first sanction and making amends for it.
Very much recommended.
After seeing The Bourne Supremacy, I was all in and wanted to see The Bourne Ultimatum. Released a mere three years after The Bourne Supremacy and in 2007, The Bourne Ultimatum seemed like it was originally intended to be the conclusion to the Bourne saga.
Like the previous Bourne films, the plot is very much the same (see, I told you I’d get back to the whole “repeating” of plots): 1) You have an amnesiac Bourne seeking to get back his memories while you have 2) the “agency” trying to stop him and at least one of the people in the agency having a hidden -deadly- agenda. The agency fears Bourne may be either trying to get revenge/kill them all or expose their “evil”. And finally, you have 3) an assassin sent after Bourne who is essentially the man’s equal (in the first film the assassin was played by Clive Owen, the second featured the already mentioned Karl Urban).
So in The Bourne Ultimatum we have Bourne drawn into the work of a reporter who has uncovered the whole “Bourne” saga and this draws Bourne -and the agency, who wants to silence him- in. The two collide and the action explodes and the action -and intrigue- leads to the place where “Jason Bourne” was originally created.
What I liked the most -and found the most clever- about The Bourne Ultimatum is that they took The Bourne Supremacy’s ending and reworked it brilliantly within the context of this third film. I also liked the fact that they seemed to realize the films’ plots were reworked over and over again and that, with this third film, it was time to wrap things up.
As I mentioned in the previous reviews, I recall that Matt Damon himelf, upon the release of The Bourne Ultimatum, made a tongue-in-cheek yet very honest assessment that the films were essentially the same, plot-wise.
In spite of this and IMHO, both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum are films that reach the same pinnacle and both are incredibly entertaining and know exactly what they’re up to and deliver the thrills and excitement in a wonderful way.
Both films are highly recommended and, I have to admit, I’m now interested in pulling out my copy of The Bourne Identity and seeing where the whole thing began.
I have to admit after watching these two terrific films, I can’t help but remember what came afterwards. If you’ve clicked on the links to my reviews of The Bourne Legacy and Jason Bourne, you’ll read how I enjoyed the films well enough but felt neither was terribly spectacular.
If anything, they seemed to be far weaker retreads of these first three films which, as I mentioned before, were themselves repeating storylines, even if they managed to do so pretty damn effectively.
The Bourne films were a shot in the arm to the spy/action genre and when Bond returned with Daniel Craig with 2006’s Casino Royale, it was all too clear that the Bourne films had influenced those films and provided them a direction the Bond films sadly lacked by the end of the Pierce Brosnan run.
What is so sad, to me, is that the Bourne films wound up being short lived. The franchise, great as it was for those first three films released between 2002 and 2007, seemed burnt out by the time Jason Bourne rolled out in 2016. Meanwhile, the Bond franchise continues, perhaps stronger than ever.
Still, for a brief five year period, there were three terrific non-Bond spy films released which, even now, remain exciting, intriguing, and worth revisiting.
I’m glad I did.
Now I gotta find the time to see The Bourne Identity…