The Bourne Ultimatum is the greatest action movie of my generation. Not only is it the best film in the already great Bourne franchise, it’s also Paul Greengrass’s best film as a director to date. It’s worth noting that this film, the final chapter in the Bourne trilogy (until Jason Bourne, which as of writing opens tonight), and the first two films in the Bourne series have both ruined and improved Hollywood. The film opened a door for a new way of making action films in Hollywood. The shaky cam, grounded storyline, and choppy editing have had a huge impact on modern-day filmmaking.
The biggest influence I’ve seen from this series is the Daniel Craig-led Bond films, which have taken all of these elements into all of Craig’s Bond films. Martin Campbell had these elements in telling the Bond origin story that is Casino Royale, and Mark Forester decided to just rip off the formula altogether with Quantum of Solace. I could go on and on about how these films ruined Hollywood because nobody could replicate the magic that Tony Gilroy, Matt Damon, and Greengrass all created. While The Bourne Ultimatum doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of story, it’s the cultivation of this story, along with some of the best action sequences seen in any film ever, that make The Bourne Ultimatum one of the greatest action flicks of all time.
The Bourne Ultimatum opens up right where Supremacy left off. Bourne (Damon) is running from the authorities from Moscow, right after the car chase. Months later, the CIA is still recovering from the aftermath of Abbott’s suicide, and Pam Landy’s (Joan Allen) suspicion over Treadstone and a potential new program, later revealed to be Blackbriar. After a journalist is killed over trying to uncover the story, Bourne decides to go on the run again and uncovering the truth behind this new program, while also still uncovering the truth behind his past, and who he was before all of this.
Greengrass directs a script by Gilroy, with rewrites done by Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi (the latter two writers worked with Steven Soderbergh and Damon on previous projects). According to reports, Damon was displeased with Gilroy’s original draft of the screenplay and had Burns and Nolfi come in to do rewrites, with Damon and Greengrass doing uncredited work on the screenplay throughout production. I’m not sure the reason behind the need for rewrites, since the film’s story is virtually the same from the previous two. It’s not particularly bothersome, since this is the formula for the first two films, and also these films and their stories were never the big crowd-pleasers for this franchise. What made people come to these films were the action sequences, and to see Matt Damon do a crazy number of stunts throughout the film.
Ultimatum features the best action sequences in any of the films. The car chase in Identity is still the best car chase, but the chase through New York City comes close (even if the laws of physics begin to get defied pretty liberally). The film is also worth noting that it feels unbelievably breezy. It’s such an exhilarating experience from beginning to end that you feel surprised that the film is finally over. Clocking in at 1 hour and 55 minutes, Ultimatum is the second longest film in the franchise, with Identity being right under two hours, and Supremacy being 1 hour and 48 minutes. It’s rare for big action films like these films to run under two hours, and its refreshing. If these films were any longer, they’d get bogged down and drag (a la The Bourne Legacy).
The performances continue to be strong as always. Damon is great, Julia Stiles returns as Nicky Parsons in an expanded role and she continues to do fine work. Joan Allen is great as always, and her role in this film feels more substantial than last time. David Strathairn, the legendary character actor best known for played Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney’s brilliant Good Night, and Good Luck, plays Noah Vosen, the film’s primary antagonist. He’s essentially a replacement for Chris Cooper and Brian Cox, and he plays the corrupt CIA chief with poise and menace. It’s a great performance by one of our great character actors. We also see Edgar Ramirez in one of his earlier roles as an assassin who is assigned by Vosen to find Bourne and kill him. It’s about as quiet a performance as Karl Urban’s was in Supremacy, but Ramirez does the character justice.
The highlight of the film is the incredible rooftop chase in Morocco, where Bourne and Nicky are trying to evade an assassin that’s been assigned to kill them both, and it’s absolutely thrilling. Half of it is a motorcycle chase through the streets, an on-foot chase, then a rooftop chase, and it all cultivates in a brutal one-on-one fight inside an apartment that Bourne has found. Sure, the action starts to get a little bit sillier, but it’s still really exciting and entertaining for an audience member to watch. Its stuff like this that was missing from The Bourne Legacy, a film that was so forgettable that I can’t really remember much about it (Irony?).
Speaking of which, The Bourne Legacy was an awful film, and in two hours as of writing this, I’ll be heading to my local theater to see Jason Bourne. It’s not getting very good reviews, so my expectations have been lowered. But I don’t regret looking back on this terrific trilogy of films. The Bourne Trilogy was a franchise that might’ve not brought anything new to Hollywood storytelling (a man on the run from the government isn’t exactly too original, but what is anyways…), but these films were all really, really fun. It brought a hero that was grounded in a world that felt as grounded as ours. The perfect action series for a post-9/11 world. It should be interesting to see how Jason Bourne addresses our world now, with recent espionage headlines dominating the news in the past couple of years since the release of Ultimatum.
I hoped you enjoyed looking back with me on these films. The review of Jason Bourne should be up sometime tomorrow.
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