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The saga of Jason Bourne continues with The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment of the trilogy based on a series of books. Any moderately successful flick is, in today’s movie world, an instant candidate for a sequel, and The Bourne Identity was just that: a moderately successful spy action/mystery vehicle helmed by David Liman and starring Matt Damon. But when the adventures continued, this time under the guidance of a different director, the outcome was less satisfying. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. The third movie of the series is able to improve on some of the weaker points of the second and, though it falls short of the original (a phrase I have typed so many times that my fingers make the necessary movements for it even when I sleep), it was certainly stronger than The Bourne Supremacy.

Jason Bourne, the highly trained super agent who cannot remember his past nor even his true name, reappears on the grid in Moscow. Injured, he is fleeing from the police and, after a brief fight, is able to sneak away again. But his brief emergence has the CIA back in Langley, Virginia nervous and once again the hunt is on. Bourne next appears in London to have a sneaky meeting with a journalist who has a secret source feeding him information that Bourne believes is connected to his own past.

After the sneaky meeting, and some more fighting, Bourne goes to Madrid where some more fighting and sneaking around commence after which some vital information is obtained. Thence to North Africa where we are treated to more of the same. Finally, the stage is set for Bourne’s last stop, a location at which he will do a great deal of fighting and sneaking around. It is sort of like the Grand Finale of a fireworks display: you know you are going to get more of the same (and indeed would be disappointed if you did not), just to a greater extent.

To a large degree, The Bourne Ultimatum reminds me of my childhood playing in the countryside with my friends. There was a lot of sneaking around, followed by fighting (generally pretend and amicable fighting), followed by more sneaking around and more fighting. It’s what boys do when the landscape around them gives them three options: corn fields, soybean fields and small woods. It also happens to be what super agents do when their former employer is trying to assassinate them. If I have made the movie seem repetitive, it’s because it is. There are precious few other ingredients besides the two which I have named too many times already to bear repeating. Like any work of art with such little diversity of elements it suffers for it.

But what it does do it does well enough. Hardly a landmark in modern cinema, it nevertheless is a competently filmed and choreographed spy and fight movie. Production values are high, and though there are some flaws in the way it was filmed, I kept comparing it to its predecessor and it came out better off for the contrast. Specifically, it has a relatively more sedate camera that permits the viewer to actually observe the images on the screen before him. This is a luxury which Supremacy did not afford us, its camera having been possessed by some sort of hyperactive demon which, even in the quietest of scenes, so agitated the camera that a character’s nose would suddenly shoot to the upper right corner of the screen, wiggle there for a moment, and it was anyone’s guess in which corner it would appear next. It is not clear to me why a simple conversation between two seated individuals should be filmed as if they were on the lip of Mt. Vesuvius, but at least Ultimatum settles down somewhat. Having failed to exorcize the camera demon they at least managed to make it groggy.

A bit of character drama, something like the burgeoning love story in the first movie, would have been a welcome addition, and indeed the opportunity was there. Julia Stiles‘ character made a couple subtle hints that she was a possibility for Mr. Bourne, but no substantial steps are taken in that direction. Perhaps it was decided that such a subplot would have necessitated the elimination of a fight scene. However, I insist that it would have made the movie stronger because…well… it would have necessitated the elimination of a fight scene.

All in all, Ultimatum is very much a typical sequel. It focuses on a lot of what the first was renowned for while neglecting any contrasting elements and variety which were actually responsible for making those more famous parts as successful as they were. Been there, done that. It also elects to pack a whole bunch of said element into the script and tries to make up for the loss of quality of detail and development of each individual scene with a greater quantity of glossed over and underdeveloped hide, sneak and fight sequences. Been there and done that as well.

It’s not going in my collection, and I won’t cry if I am forbidden to ever see it again, but I did enjoy it while it lasted. It is technically well done, artistically bearable and it had a nice, anti-rogue-government-agency message that, while lacking subtlety, I definitely connected with. A movie of this quality can make the months between Zodiac and whatever the next good flick is going to be pass more smoothly.

Grade: C+


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