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The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles

Written By: Tony Gilroy

Directed By: Paul Greengrass

The Shot

Predictable though it may be at nearly every turn, The Bourne Supremacy is a very good second entry that establishes its amnesiac assassin firmly at the center of a franchise.  Just be sure to watch its predecessor first.

The Highball

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A bit more fattening than Emmental.

Pairs Well With...


When in Germany…

“You talk about this stuff like you read it in a book.”

Robert Ludlum’s novel “The Bourne Supremacy” holds a very rare distinction for me: it’s one of the few books I’ve ever put down without bothering to finish reading it.  (In fact, it was only the second.)  I don’t remember quite how far I got – for some reason “page 137” rings distantly for me, though I can’t be sure now – but I do remember that it had already felt like a chore getting there, and I’d finally reached a point where I had to say “I just can’t anymore.”  I haven’t read a word of Ludlum’s work since.

And so, despite being pleasantly surprised by the kinda-sorta-not-really-adaptation of “The Bourne Identity” two years before, I somehow managed to miss catching The Bourne Supremacy on the big screen.  In fact, I never bothered with it at all until now.

Looks like I missed out back then, because while it’s not as sharp as its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy is in fact quite good, and, I was pleased to see, barely refers to its “source” novel as much more than what the Spam can photos call a “serving suggestion” even though no one would ever serve that stuff with cherries and pineapple.  (Screenwriter Tony Gilroy called his script a “re-imagining,” and then that was put through its own heavy “re-imagining” during officially uncredited doctoring, so… so much for the book.)

Though The Bourne Supremacy begins with one of my least favorite motion picture tropes ever – the weary hero is never allowed to live happily ever after in peace – I’ve come to peace with that trope’s existence, and this story plays with it better than most.  Here, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) finds the happy ending he’d thought he found at the end of The Bourne Identity shattered by a bullet, and he can only assume that his former employers in CIA Black Ops are responsible.  Meanwhile, a CIA ops runner named Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) has discovered evidence that leads her to assume that Bourne is responsible for wrecking one of her operations and killing her agent. 

So wait, who are these people again?  Who’s manipulating them?  Will Jason Bourne ever get his memory back?  Does it matter as long as the action and the pacing are good?

Taking those questions in order…

Though The Bourne Supremacy is theoretically watchable as a standalone film in an “in one eyeball and out the other” kind of way, it only truly makes sense if one has watched The Bourne Identity first.  So for best results, you’ll want to be sure to do that.  After which…

If you can’t figure out who’s pulling strings from behind the curtain long before the movie “officially” reveals the truth, you’re simply not paying attention.  The Bourne Supremacy is nothing if not predictable almost from beginning to end.  (There’s one thing near the end – in fact, it was originally supposed to be the end – that is hard to see coming.  How much sense it makes without taking a long pull back from things is another matter, but hey.) 

The memory thing that Bourne still has going on is an odder duck to deal with.  Amnesia plots are always dicey affairs, and though the first film handled things quite deftly indeed, carrying that over to the sequel presents more of a challenge.  For one thing, if you haven’t seen the first film, it’s never properly explained, so that nuance is lost, and then there’s the matter of how each film deals with Bourne’s persistent amnesia.  In the first, though it is in important and indeed the central plot point, the amnesia is treated first and foremost as an aspect of Bourne’s character throughout.  In this movie, once one gets past the opening sequence, it’s treated as a plot device first.  It may sound like a subtle difference, but it does change the atmosphere.

With all of that said, the cloak-and-dagger/assassination stuff plays well within the confines of its formula, and in this genre, that’s perfectly acceptable.  Sure, it’s easy to figure out nearly everything that’s going to happen well in advance, but the execution is engaging, and the pacing is excellent.  The action scenes feel much bigger in The Bourne Supremacy than they did in its predecessor; they’re more intensely presented and heavily produced, in keeping with a more standard Hollywood action line.  The hand to hand combat is meatier (amazing what one can do with a magazine), the car chases heavier on the accelerator, and Bourne’s front line nemesis (played by Karl Urban) is much more intense.  All of this boils down to the fact that Paul Greengrass has replaced Doug Liman in the director’s chair, and the focus of The Bourne Supremacy has shifted accordingly.

Directors matter.  In this case, Paul Greengrass has adjusted the atmosphere created by the first film to play closer to summer tentpole norms, and in doing so, he has cemented the Bourne name as the centerpiece of a workable franchise.

He’s also made a very good though not really standalone sequel.  If you’ve already seen The Bourne Identity and enjoyed it, then moving on to The Bourne Supremacy is a natural and very much worthwhile progression.  If you missed the first film, though, you really should take care of that oversight before watching this sequel.  It’ll make for a much more enjoyable experience.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2016

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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