Extreme ways are back again and so is Jason Bourne.
There is no doubt that Matt Damon was already an in-demand leading man, but he firmly cemented his status as Hollywood superstar by anchoring a wildly successful action franchise. I certainly don't think the general public ever saw Damon as a potential action hero until he became Bourne, a point that was even poked fun of in "The 40-Year Old Virgin." The Bourne series have been comprised of those rare action films that have won over movie-goers and critics alike. They're proof that loud, dumb, and overproduced need not be requisites to make a great action film. The Bourne series has definitely changed the way we see the spy thriller and was a tremendous motivator in rebooting the Bond franchise lest 007 become a campy, outmoded dinosaur.
"The Bourne Ultimatum" is a direct continuation of the last film, "Bourne Supremacy," picking up right where we left off. A few steps back if you count the epilogue, which is played into very cleverly in the third act of "Ultimatum." Unlike other franchises such as "The Matrix" and "Pirates of the Caribbean", the Bourne sequels never feel like one movie stretched into two and stretched far too thinly for its own good. "Ultimatum" is packed with enough story and suspense to keep our attention and takes Bourne on a criss-cross journey across the globe.
"Ultimatum" opens up in Moscow, minutes after Jason Bourne has confronted Irina Neski, whose parents he had murdered while a member of the assassination program, Treadstone. Bourne evades the Russian authorities and six weeks later he is in Paris telling Martin Kreutz (Daniel Bruhl), the brother of his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente) that she is dead and he's going to end this war against his makers. Meanwhile, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), an investigative reporter for The Guardian, uncovers information about Bourne along with Treadstone and its replacement operation, Blackbriar, which was mentioned briefly at the end of the first film. This puts him in immediate danger from CIA official, Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), who heads Operation Blackbriar. Bourne arrives in London to futilely save Ross's life when Vosen dispatches numerous agents to silence him.
Despite Ross's death, Bourne manages to get information that leads him to Ross's source, Neil Daniels (Colin Stinton), a section chief in Madrid who was a part of Treadstone at the beginning. At the time same time, Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is brought back into the fold to continue the hunt for Bourne. She quickly balks at Vosen's cavalier attitude towards life and attempts to secretly countermand his operation. Unbeknownst to Landy, Vosen and CIA Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) are sizing her up as a scapegoat should any of their black bag dealings come to light. Also returning for this go-around is Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a logistics coordinator for Treadstone. When last we saw her, Bourne was holding a gun to her head in a Berlin subway. Now, Parsons is assigned to the Madrid office and assists Bourne in his search for Daniels. They hint of a past romance between Parsons and Bourne and it seems she might replace Marie in Bourne's life. Thankfully, the filmmakers resist the clichéd need to add a love interest to the mix though it still feels like an unnecessary subplot. New to "Ultimatum" are Albert Finney in a brief role as Dr. Albert Hirsch the man behind the behavior modification that has erased Bourne's memories and Paz (Edgar Ramirez), a Blackbriar assassin dogging Bourne in London and New York.
There is a slight sense of been-there, done-that when it comes to "Ultimatum." Some of the main action set pieces feel very similar to ones already done in the previous films, just done on a bigger, more expensive scale. In fact, the climactic car chase in "Ultimatum" ends almost exactly like the climactic car chase in "Supremacy." Both have a car driven into a cement pillar and both have Bourne refusing to pull the trigger on his injured enemy. Bourne also suffers from typical action hero syndrome where he miraculously survives multiple car crashes and beatings with a few scratches to show for it. There's also Paul Greengrass's shaky handheld camera technique which has garnered polarizing opinions. I didn't find the camera shakes as dizzying or overused as I did with "Supremacy. I did feel Greengrass didn't need to go handheld for simple two-shots of actors chatting over breakfast. Still, these are only minor quibbles and the film is too good to be bogged down by them.
"Ultimatum" has plenty of action and it's a credit to the film that they've made something that should be a simple foot chase (the one through Waterloo Station) into such a thrilling sequence. Even better is the chase through the streets of Tangier and onto the rooftops that leads right into a tremendous fight scene between Bourne and an assassin named Desh (Joey Ansah). What's great about these sequences is the fact that they aren't just run, run or drive, drive. Each set piece has a beginning, middle, and an end with Bourne and whatever antagonist he's facing moving from one location to another. Thus, none of the chase scenes feel like they're being dragged on as the situations are frequently changing. You can also credit the clever and intelligent ways Bourne uses to get out of problematic circumstances. Bourne is always armed with his wits and never needs a ballpoint pen that shoots laser beams or huge guns. It's always fun to see what ordinary objects he uses in unique ways. What more can you say about a man who can incapacitate an opponent with using only a rolled-up magazine?
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. There is some noticeable grain in the darker scenes, but the overall transfer is superb. Colors aren't bright since the movie chooses colder tones (blues, grays), but they are strong.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with alternate French and Spanish dubbed tracks also in 5.1. This is definite reference quality sound and perfect for showing off your system. The body blows, the car crashes, gunshots, and explosions are all booming. The audio also does justice to the pulse-pounding score by John Powell and Moby's "Extreme Ways" never sounded so good.
The DVD includes an audio commentary from director Paul Greengrass which is the typical commentary track most of you are used to hearing. Greengrass has a few interesting tidbits here and there, but spends much of the time dryly describing what's happening on screen and recapping the plot and themes of the film.
Man on the Move: Jason Bourne (23:56) is a look at the location filmmaking and is split into five chapters: Berlin (which substituted for Moscow in the beginning of the movie), Paris, London, Madrid, and Tangier. We get behind-the-scenes footage along with comments from the cast & crew about the positives and negatives of shooting on-location. We watch them set up shots in the middle of Waterloo station which can't be shut down for filming and using a local crew in Tangier who are fasting for Ramadan.
Rooftop Pursuit (5:39) focuses on the stuntwork done during the rooftop chase in Tangier as well as the memorable shot of Bourne jumping off the roof and into a balcony with the camera right behind him.
Planning the Punches (4:59) shows us the making-of the fight scene between Bourne and Desh. We watch the actors work with stunt coordinators learning each step of the fight and get a look at the props used as weapons.
Driving School (3:24) is a brief look at Matt Damon learning stunt driving techniques.
New York Chase (10:46) is a look at Damon and cinematographer Oliver Wood at work as they shoot the movie's climactic car chase through the streets of New York City.
Rounding out the extras is a collection of deleted scenes that play as is without the option to watch them separately.
In this past summer of threequels, "The Bourne Ultimatum" stood head and shoulders above the competition. "Spider-Man 3" was disappointing and lazily written, "Shrek the Third" and "Ocean's Thirteen" were below average, "At Worlds End" was a confusing mess, and "Rush Hour 3" was just a bad idea. "Ultimatum" managed to not only meet expectations, but exceeded them. The film has brought Jason Bourne around full-circle while giving a sense of closure to the series, but still managed to leave things open-ended. I don't want to see any more "Rush Hour" or "Ocean's" movies, but I loved "Ultimatum" enough that I do want to see more Bourne movies. One can hope Greengrass and Damon are still up for them.