M kindly plus-oned me into a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum yesterday morning – on the basis that he’d not seen the first two Bourne outings and I might help with any questions. I was a bit giddy with excitement as we arrived in Leicester Square. The following contains some minor spoilers, but won’t give the game away. But no, Ian, there weren’t any lions.
The film picks up immediately from the end of The Bourne Supremacy with ex-assassin-on-the-run Jason wounded and in Moscow, having just fessed up to a girl. The police are after him, he’s in bad shape and it’s all a bit exciting. The fast-cutting, low-fi, hand-held look is just as from before, as is the fantastic music.
For newbies like M, there are flashbacks early on to what has gone before and a CIA board meeting where people explain the plots of the last two films to gnarly boss Scott Glenn. His, “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” is a bit awkward and knowing, but any newcomers are quickly up to speed.
The hook for this one is that the Guardian have got hold of the story. Yes, really. There’s exciting scenes of the Guardian offices as they fight they good fight against conspiracies. M, what knows those offices himself, found this especially funny.
Soon Jason is chasing the story himself, racing to collect clues about what he used to be a part of, while baddies try to eliminate the evidence. We dash quickly all across Europe: Turin, London, Paris, Madrid, the CIA merrily ignoring local laws and civil liberties as they struggle to keep hold of their secrets.
It’s as brutal and fast-paced and thrilling and smart as its predecessors, with Matt Damon using his brains as much as he uses martial arts, one man against hopeless odds. There’s some fun gags as he calls the police on his pursuers or turns up where they’re not looking. I am struggling not to say more, but note how it’s the women who help him and act as his conscience and the boys who use too much brute force.
So if you like the last two, you’ll be very happy. What’s more, the film has enough similar shots and situations to make it feel like this isn’t just another add-on to the franchise but part of a cohesive whole. That’s most obvious in the final scenes: the last lines from Bourne and then what happens next.
M not seen any of the previous two (I leant him them on DVD) and loved it too, though in the drizzle outside after he felt unconvinced by it as satire. I suggested, though, that this “it’s not the institution that’s at fault but some rogue elements within it” is no different from James Bond. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that this genre is all adventures with extremists.
Speaking of Bond, there’d been some speak last year that Casino Royale owed a great deal to Jason Bourne (though I’ve argued that it owes more to 24). So how would Bourne respond: would it break its winning formula in trying to up its game? No, it offers more of the same, only faster and more intense and with some bigger set-ups. (I also thought the rooftop chase in Tangiers reminiscent of The Living Daylights, though M. thought of the political Battle of Tangiers).
There are a small number of tiny niggles, too. Where does Bourne get his money from? How does he break into what should be such secure places? The film works hard to give Julia Styles a reason to be there, but it’s still a huge coincidence that she happens to end up in Bourne’s way again. Especially given what we learn about her past: yes, she might have reasons to be there, but that’s why her bosses would ensure she couldn’t be.
There’s also the customary British actor playing the villainous big cheese. At first I thought the bloke glimpsed in the flashbacks was an excuse to bring back Brian Cox, and wonder if Albert Finney got cast entirely for that reason.
Filmed at Pinewood, the film makes use of London’s own American actors – Von Statten and the US President from Doctor Who are in it, though I felt cheated there was no Mac McDonald. (Only this weekend M and I devised a game for watching Secret Army, where it’s one point for naming an actor, two for naming another role they’ve had, and five for who they played in some form of Doctor Who).
But anyway. I was buzzing all day after seeing it and am already booking to go again.