After a Summer of bloated and tired sequels, the third ‘Bourne’ comes as a breath of fresh air – and at last delivers a modern trilogy of cinema which doesn’t have a visibly weak entry. All three are great films, and in terms of pure pacing and thrills – ‘Ultimatum’ is the best yet.
‘Bourne Supremacy’ helmer Paul Greengrass returns for his second go round at the American anti-Bond character, and whilst his camera is as annoyingly shaky as ever, his efficient sense of action thrills have never been more pinpoint accurate. The handheld camera and quick cut editing technique still makes things mildly confusing and nauseating, most notably a car chase scene towards the end in New York City, but lend a much stronger sense of realism and urgency to the action. Also the jerkiness is ubiquitous throughout and seems more controlled, making it far less distracting than it was in ‘Supremacy’.
What makes ‘Ultimatum’ different though is its pacing. The script has very little in the way of actual depth – characterisation and plot are no more complicated or deep than “Transformers” or an average episode of “24”- yet the writing is far smarter, more efficient and whilst the action demands your attention, it never gets lost in either CG bombast (like the former) or ludicrous twists (like Jack Bauer and his CTU cohorts).
That efficient spartan style of minimalism means the film is never bogged down in exposition or drawn out melodramatics. Yet, on the rare moments between action scenes, that lack of any real character development and some notable plot holes do come to bite it in the ass – from the near superheroics of the lead to the sheer incompetency of the CIA, not to mention the mildly anticlimactic ending involving the resolution of Bourne’s search (revealing stuff we already knew). Bourne may be far more realistic than 007, but he’s also far more of an enigma and in many ways even more of a charicature – albeit one less flamboyant.
Whilst it won’t win many awards for substance, ‘Bourne’ turns out trumps in style. Greengrass beautifully crafts and shoots scenes with levels of tension, suspense and sheer adrenaline that the film often leaves one both shocked and breathless. It’s a testament to his skill that much of the film’s first act, which involves a drawn out attempt by Bourne to meet with a contact under surveillance at Waterloo Station in London, turns what is essentially a simple bit of misdirection and pursuit on foot into a truly thrilling sequence.
The action remains consistently good throughout as it spreads across Moscow, London, Madrid, Tangier and New York. Despite all the globe-trotting, the on location shooting combined with the gritty street-level acrobatics lend a palpable sense of reality and suspense. When it all comes together in a great set piece, notably the film’s best involving a motorbike and then a rooftop chase through the streets of Tangier, the film literally grabs you by the neck and refuses to let go.
Added to that some solid scenes of political power plays between the supporting characters, with the great Joan Allen returning to lock horns with David Strathairn as the corrupt baddie of the piece. There’s some biting attacks at the abuse of authority and treading on civil rights that have taken place in the Bush government, something previously touched on but not so decidedly blantant (or at times clumsily) as this does. Performances from Damon, Stiles, and the gang are just as good as before – Damon in particular having honed the character’s low-key but ruthless approach down to a fine art.
‘Ultimatum’ is what many say will be the final film in the series, and they’ve done the good job of going out on a high. It’s the best action film by far of the Summer and refreshingly reinvigorates the spy genre yet again. It’s not a mold breaker ala “Casino Royale,” and its lack of anything outside of fast thrills will make repeat viewings of the film seem less and less captivating, but its initial display is such an exciting rocket ride that all you can do is hold on.