Greengrass' Supremacy Erratic, Intense

Directed by: Paul Greengrass, Runtime: 108 minutes
Grade: B-

If Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity is an exercise in controlled suspense, then The Bourne Supremacy manages to unleash everything caged within the first film. Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass takes the helm with this sequel, and it's clear that he has different plans for Jason Bourne. Gone are the restrained visuals and streamlined character depth, and in comes an erratic visual style and a thirst for revenge. Deciding whether Supremacy improves or topples downward in quality when compared to Liman's work is a tough call; instead, it's easier to say that it's a different way of going about the same mannerisms, carrying recognizable musical cues and Matt Damon's panache over into unfamiliar, brashly vigorous territory.

Adapted from Robert Ludlum's novel to only a meek degree, Supremacy takes place two years after the events in Identity, with Jason Bourne (Damon) and love interest Marie (Franka Potente) on the run from the CIA/Treadstone as anon residents in Goa, India. Even after everything that goes down at the end of the first picture, it appears as if the government's still trying to hunt them down when they spot a gruff assassin-type tailing them through the streets. Naturally, they drop what they're doing and flee; however, their escape from pursuers this time around isn't as successful as their flight from Paris. Because of the events in Goa, a fire is lit underneath Bourne to delve into the exact nature of his assignments -- which are, at least one of them, slowly creeping back into Jason's memory bank through indistinct yet intense flashes from his past.

Greengrass obviously paid attention to what worked in the first Bourne film, because he also concentrates on the bustle of activity at CIA headquarters as a way to give us frantic factoids about Bourne that he doesn't know. It's a wasp's hive of activity once Pamela Landy takes over the Treadstone hunt, with a lot of plotting, double-crossing, and backstabbing around a Russian intelligence mission gone awry, and Bourne happens to be the one getting the blame for its failure. Yet, ultimately, the extra layers that exist within The Bourne Supremacy -- all the business with the Russian spies and the neo-political chessmatch going on in the CIA -- are handled in a jumbled degree that makes them a bit more of a hindrance than an enhancement to the film's core drive. It tosses in cookie-cutter "twists" that are startling yet uninteresting in regards to the core narrative, creating little more than speeebumps that we cross. Because of that, it's wholly worth arguing that Supremacy loses a bit of the intelligence that made Identity such a crafty success.

Disposable characters are carted out amid the Russians scrambling to assassinate Bourne, as well as a blitz through a Rolodex of faces in the CIA's nerve center, and most of 'em don't add anything to the narrative. Without Chris Cooper to interchange with this time around, Brian Cox's character falls a bit flat against satisfying turns from Joan Allen and Julia Stiles as their respective characters. Joan Allen does build a decent character out of project leader Pamela Landy, evoking her dramatic talent as the root of her character's success as both an empathetic and bloodhound-worthy link to Bourne. But mostly, once it's all said and done, we really don't see more than Bourne vs. the CIA as a somewhat faceless mass, a wily little David vs. Goliath, and that's fine for Greengrass' aims. The characters mostly tag along with the twisty maze of a plot and lack the crispness and focus of Identity, even though all the pawns, bishops, and rooks at play are performed with aplomb.

What we ultimately care about is how Jason Bourne's sprinting, maneuvering, bullet-dodging and high-speed activity gets him out of harm's way and into the shadows, all while he learns more about his past in a fashion similar to snapping jigsaw puzzle pieces together -- something that Paul Greengrass holds on to well in this sequel. However, it's in the way he composes it all visually that's questionable -- intriguing and stylish, yet questionable. The second Bourne film again sees Oliver Wood return as cinematographer, so a like-minded visual design would be expected; however, director Greengrass brings his Bloody Sunday aesthetic to the series, emphasizing the erratic "shaky cam" documentary-style look. What he's gunning for is hyper-realism that plants us right next to Bourne, with violent shakes during hand-to-hand combat and a heavily-spasmed look to motion, but on top of that he also achieves a brash experience with the inconsistent motion. Give and take, I suppose, but it doesn't completely satisfy. Yes, you feel like you're right next to Bourne, but at times we simply want to stand back and marvel at what Bourne's doing instead of standing close like a bystander.

However, the visual construction doesn't stop The Bourne Supremacy from being quite a pulse-quickening exercise in espionage chessplay. Granted, we're taken through familiar territory -- chases on foot and behind the wheel of a car being most prominent -- but at least it's exciting. A hand-to-hand battle between Bourne and another Treadstone operative feels slightly boxy and claustrophobic due to the Greengrass style of photography, but the bluntness of their punchy tango makes it entertaining. Again, much of the intensity in Supremacy resides in Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, who's completely blossomed from a shaky yet driven character in Identity to a quintessential cold-blooded, reactive killing machine. Though still surgical with his movements, he's dropped the frenetic ramblings that he blurted out to Marie in Identity, staying silent and slick as he moves from location to location. His precision constricts his growth as a character, building up to an expected issue regarding the story since Bourne has no one to really trust at this point -- and his coldness ultimately causes the film to lack in character evolution. That's a purposeful sacrifice, though, because he's in a melancholy, focused tunnel that doesn't allow much outside influence to divert his attention from a core drive.

When standing back and looking at this as a complete picture, I can't help but feel like The Bourne Supremacy is little more than a meager, one-dimensional carryover to Doug Liman's picture, satisfying the need for cloak-and-dagger suspense but sacrificing a bit of acumen and depth in the process. There's nothing particularly distinct about this second entry, aside from it clearly being an extension of the story, yet it's still thrilling and engaging enough -- offering chases across the world, bullets flying, and massive amounts of tightly-realized and reality-bound thrills -- to satisfy a larger curiosity. But, hell, when it's all said and done, it's still superior in leaps and bounds to that of most thriller spy fare cranked out of the woodwork, only it's clearly more blunted and quaking when lined up against its predecessor.


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