July 24, 2004 -- “The Bourne Supremacy” is a better-than-average sequel. It is good, but not as good as the original, despite some critics who say otherwise. Its pacing is uneven, its cinematography is too shaky and it lacks heart, but it has a lean, intelligent script, supporting by strong acting and direction. It also features outstanding stunts and chase scenes. It is a worthy, but slightly lesser followup to the surprise 2002 hit, “The Bourne Identity.”
“The Bourne Supremacy” has much of the original cast returning for the sequel, including Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, Franka Potente as his girlfriend, Marie, Brian Cox as CIA administrator, Ward Abbott, Julia Stiles as CIA analyst Nicky and Gabriel Mann as CIA analyst Danny Zorn. The last film ended with Bourne warning the CIA that he would retaliate if any operative came near him or Marie. An operative does come after him and Bourne spends the bulk of the movie seeking revenge and dodging the numerous attempts by the CIA to kill him. Bourne also has to unravel a very complex plot to find out who is behind the assassination attempt on him. This requires a lot of spycraft, including use of some very high-tech gadgets that he really shouldn't even know how to use, since he has been out of the spy game for a couple of years.
The other problem with the elaborate plot is the decision by the bad guys to seek out Bourne and get him involved in their murder-for-profit conspiracy. These guys know all about Bourne, that he is a dangerous loose cannon. They should know that trying to kill Bourne and frame him for murder is extremely risky and unnecessary. The bad guy's decision is not only to wake up a very mean sleeping dog, but to poke him with a sharp stick. Besides those two minor points, the screenplay by Tony Gilroy (who also wrote the screenplay for “The Bourne Identity”) is smart and spare, with a brains-over-brawn approach to solving problems. The spy games played between the opponents in this film are engrossing. This is perhaps the best example of brainy spycraft since “Ronin.” Speaking of which, there are some excellent car chases and other extended chase scenes in European locations.
While the film does have a lot of action, the pace of the film is uneven. It goes gangbusters for a while, then comes to a screeching halt and then lurches forward again, many times. The plot is also less interesting than that of the first film because it lacks the additional dimension of romance. The camera work by cinematographer Oliver Wood (“Freaky Friday”) is also ill-conceived in some of the fight scenes. The herky-jerky movements of hand-held cameras make some of the fight scenes so chaotic you can't tell what is happening. The decision to use so many hand-held camera shots in the fight scenes destroys the choreography of those scenes and turns them into a jumble of incoherent images. I think the use of hand-helds in the entire film is excessive, but their effect isn't as destructive in most scenes as it is in fight scenes, or in some of the car chases. Hand-held cameras can add some energy to scenes, but these car chases and fight scenes should be exciting enough on their own not to require additional gimmicks.
The acting is good throughout. Franka Potente's role is way too limited, while Julia Stiles, who had a virtual cameo role in the first film, finally gets to show her acting chops in this one. The major addition to this film is Joan Allen of “The Contender,” a fine actress. Allen gets a major role in this film, and gets to play a strong, intelligent, mature woman to boot. This is an exceedingly rare thing in an action film, and it is rare enough in most Hollywood films, period. Her role is similar to that played so ably by Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive.” Karl Urban, of the “Lord of the Rings” films, does a good job as one of the villains, named Kirill.
Usually, when the last of the bad guys is dispatched, and the last tire has squealed and the last echo of the last gunshot has died away, that is the end of the action movie and the credits roll. Not in this film, however. Here, the audience gets the unexpected bonus of two excellent epilogues. I won't divulge details here, but one is emotional, and one serves to further humanize Bourne, and to set up yet another sequel. The humanity of Bourne is worth noting since some have theorized, based on clues in the first film, that Bourne is a cyborg, rather than fully human. This film tells us nothing definitively about the cyborg theory, leaving the question open to further speculation. I find the theory interesting, but unnecessary to explain the films.
While I don't think this film quite measures up to the first film, it is certainly a good spy thriller with excellent stunts, chases, an intelligent script and good performances. The direction by Paul Greengrass is spare enough to let the audience figure out what's going on for themselves. The film does not spell out and foreshadow everything. It lets you discover the mystery along with Bourne. This is a spy thriller for thinking adults. This film rates a B.
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