Monday, January 04, 2016

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

Film: The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Stars: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban
Director: Paul Greengrass
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

By the laws of movie sequels, The Bourne Supremacy gets to either be better or worse than its original, but cannot possibly be the same.  By all accounts that I have read through the years, Supremacy actually improved upon its sequel, which made me excited.  Given a larger budget, the film does indeed become more fascinating and the action sequences are upped, but part of me still missed the earlier moments.  Gone here are the little red herrings and unanswered questions that the first wisely kept in the dark, and instead we get a more traditional action picture, albeit a smart one with thrilling chase sequences and genuine anticipation of what will happen next (and the incredibly smart introduction of Joan Allen's Pamela Landy).

(Spoilers Ahead) I think what bothered me initially about The Bourne Supremacy was that it was taking some of the best moments of the original film and kind of tossing them away.  Here, for example, we learn far more about the original assassin program than we had initially found out, Franka Potente's Marie is quickly sidelined despite being a breath of fresh air in the original movie, and Julia Stiles' Nicky takes on a much more significant role than the first film, as her red herring still sticks out as one of the best plot devices I've seen in a movie in a while.  This film doesn't have these sorts of intentional touches, ones that will stick out and sort of make Bourne a special franchise.

The film is still smart though, and this is sort of what critics have relied upon for an interesting "classy" action hero movie.  It seems unfair in hindsight to punish The Bourne Supremacy, because in many ways the now slightly dull formula of sharp, engaging action scenes with intelligent action heroes rather than blockheads at the helm but completely predictable story lines was founded in the Damon-franchise, but after so many films have copied this movie in some parts I felt like I was watching something I knew by heart.  The twist late in the film with Brian Cox as a deeply corrupt public official was something that didn't even ring as a surprise (he was the highest-billed male actor after Damon-how could he not have been the villain?), and frankly most of the film I saw coming.

The one pleasant surprise was Joan Allen as a mid-level government official.  Typically when we see a prestige actress "slumming" it in an action movie, it's a paycheck role where they'll either play a "busy businesswoman doing business" to quote John Mulaney or they're simply there to be impressive until the action-hero male comes in and proves their entire thesis wrong.  In some ways Allen falls into that trap, as she is indeed proven wrong on multiple occasions by Bourne, but I like that we get to see her struggle in a realistic way with this development, realizing the career pitfall that Bourne poses to her, as well as the potential strength.  Allen's Pamela Landy plays like a real person, and combined with Damon's consistency as Bourne we get what could have been a dull movie to begrudgingly admire and see a movie that is predictable but enjoyable.  Not exactly Oscar fare, so I'm hoping the bar is raised on what came next (Ultimatum taking three trophies, including the tough-to-come-by Best Editing), but certainly nowhere approaching bad.

Those are my thoughts on the second Bourne movie installment-how about yours?  Did you find you liked this movie better than the second (for the record, since I have matching review scores, I didn't)?  Am I in for a treat with the third picture?  Do you wish Joan Allen got more roles like this?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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