With only a handful of exceptions sequels do not live up to the bar set by the original. Thankfully, the Bourne Supremacy is one of those exceptions. It built upon the factors that made the original successful and continues upward from there. When we last saw the belabored Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) he was attempting to put his life as the rouge CIA super spy behind. Like Michael Corleone, just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Bourne finds that he has been framed for the murder of two agents, the frame this time instigated by a Russian oil magnate, Gretkov (Karel Roden). Once again Bourne finds himself spanning the globe looking to make sense out of the whole spy game he is pulled into. Now the CIA has is also after Bourne, this time because although they found his finger prints at the scene of the murders they knew he was far away at the time, the question is raised who is framing Bourne and why? Headed by CIA senior agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), the chase is on again for Bourne. We also have her boss Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) and the agent in training Nicky (Julia Stiles) on the trail hunting Bourne.
What sets this film apart from other sequels and indeed other action oriented films is it actually has an interesting plot. There is a reason behind what is going on rather than filling the time between fights and explosions with meaningless sequences whose purpose seems only to give the audience time to get more pop corn. Here we have a story line that not only stands on itís own but also adds insight to the previous installment. There is a mystery woven into the film giving us two films for the price of one. It just shows that action can be used to further the plot instead of being a poor excuse for the lack of story telling ability. There is misdirection as Bourne is lead to believe that the CIAís Treadstone project, the project that gave rise to his abilities, is once again after him. The clues to the truth are revealed slowly throughout the film rather than the more typical revelation at the end. This shows some degree of respect for the audience, that we can actually remember details and piece them together. Like a good roller coaster ride where it is the anticipation of the next heart pounding drop, this film plays with us, weaving together meaningful exposition with realistically filmed action.
Once again Matt Damonís performance may surprise many in the audience. He presents a character that is more fully fleshed out than the usual action hero. There is emotion displayed here. Not since Harrison Ford took on the role of Jack Ryan has there been a real actor in an intelligently written film that just happens to have some kicking action in it. Damon goes effortlessly from the almost bewildered young man to an emotionless killing machine. Damon also adds a nice touch of humanity to his portrayal of Bourne. He is deceived by many of the ploys set against him and struggles to piece together the truth. This is a refreshing change from the spies often shown in films that seem to be able to piece together a complex plan on the flimsiest piece of information. Joan Allen is up to her usual high standards. She is able to play a cold and calculating professional spy while still allowing the audience to gain insight into her motives. Brian Cox underplays his part in a very effective fashion. He draws upon years of acting experience to make Abbot someone we can love to hate. To her credit Julia Styles is again willing to take a role far less in the spotlight then she is used to. She is willing to take on projects like this to grow in her craft and we the audience is rewarded by her efforts.
The director of the first film, Doug Liman, has moved up to producer here but thankfully the screen writer Tony Gilmore once again penned the story line. Here, the directing helm is manned by Paul Greengrass whose previous work was Bloody Sunday, a documentary style look at the Irish protest of 1976. Greengrass tries too hard here to impart a realistic tone to the film. The major drawback in Supremacy is his over use of the jerky, hand held camera. Many scenes make the Blair Witch Project look like it was filmed with a steadi-cam. There is so much sporadic heaving about of the camera that the audience does not get a realistic feel; we get to feel disoriented, on the verge of nausea. With that very notable point out of the way Greengrass does have a lot going for him as a director. With a film like this pacing is far more critical than ever. Too much exposition and the audience will become restless waiting for the promised action. Too much action and there is no story to follow. Greengrass strikes an excellent balance between the two. The action is permitted to grow organically out of the story instead of being the story. He permits his excellent cast the freedom to do what they do best, entertain us with well portrayed characters.
Universal has done a very good job with bringing this movie to DVD. They once again give us both an excellent job of mastering with better than the usual selection of additional material. The Dolby 5.1 audio is nothing less than exciting. The rear speakers go from a passive ambience to placing you in the middle of the action. The dialogue is clear and typically easy to understand. The anamorphic version of the video is crisp and free of any artifact. The color palette is dead on. The flesh tones remain true even in a rapid transition from light to dark. The commentary provides a look at some of the travails of putting this production together. One of the extras I really enjoyed was the look at casting the film. It details how the right actor was matched with the best possible character. There is also an anatomy of a scene that shows just how much work is required to present a few seconds of an explosion. In all this is a worthy successor to the first film.