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Empire List #454: The Bourne Supremacy

“The Bourne Supremacy” is a classic example of a sequel that takes everything that was good from the first movie and improves upon it. Once again Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the amnesiac American assassin, must outrun and outthink C.I.A operatives who want to either apprehend him or kill him. The difference is that in this first sequel, they made the mistake of going after him while he was trying to live peacefully with his girlfriend. Big mistake.

I had seen the first movie, “The Bourne Identity”, on an airplane somewhere over the Andes Mountains in South America. It wasn’t the best venue to watch a movie with so many stunts and a relatively heavy plot. For the sequel I got to see the movie where it belongs: on the big screen of a major multiplex during the summer season. It was my second summer in Quebec City; I had just finished high school and was ready for some entertainment before going to college.

I say “entertainment” but the Bourne movies are by no means mindless entertainment. Everybody in this movie is smart. Jason Bourne doesn’t just pick up a gun and blast away his enemies. He researches them first, gets to know whom he is dealing with, and looks for a vantage point. As far as he is concerned there was absolutely no reason for the C.I.A to send a hitman to kill him in India. They pissed him off, but he needs to know why.

The people who are after him are equally confused. C.I.A Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is running a sting operation in Berlin when two of her operatives are killed. Fingerprints at the scene point to Jason Bourne a name that is buried in red tape. After digging around in the right files, she finds Deputy Director Ward Abbot (Brian Cox), a sinister character from the first movie who warns her not to go after Bourne.

It doesn’t matter: Bourne is coming for them. He uses a fake passport in Naples that he knows will be flagged by security. Agents take him to a room where he uses his lightning-fast skills to incapacitate everyone in the room. By using one of the agent’s cell phones he learns Landy’s name and he now has a target.

From then on the story switches to chase mode as Landy and her team try to track Bourne. They set up base camp in Berlin where technicians hunt him using their computers. They research his history, try to predict where he will be, and look for his face on any security camera they can access. It never occurs to them he just might be across the street staring at them through the scope of a sniper rifle.

The movie is directed by Paul Greengrass who also directed the powerful “United 93” and the superior sequel “The Bourne Ultimatum”. He picks up the reigns of the franchise after Doug Liman left. Liman did a good job with the first movie, but Greengrass truly elevates the story to new heights, especially with the action sequences.

The best chase in the movie is also one of the best car chases of the 2000s. Bourne steals a taxi in Moscow and is chased by an assassin (Karl Urban) as well as the Russian police. The chase eventually goes into a tunnel where the camera constantly switches from Bourne’s car to the assassin’s car. As the two vehicles collide and are about to hit an incoming cement divider, the cuts become more and more frenetic to accentuate the tension.

It works enormously well. As you witness the chase on the big or even the small screen, your adrenaline goes into overdrive. I read this one Quebec critic who criticized the rhythm of the action and said it was too frenetic. I’ve read this guy’s reviews over the years and in my opinion; he’s a wuss when it comes to action movies.

If the editing is frenetic, it’s because the action in the moment is frenetic. It puts the viewers in Bourne’s shoes as he is driving down the Moscow streets.

From what I’ve heard these streets are pretty hectic in real life anyway. I eventually got the entire Bourne Trilogy on DVD as a Christmas present and on the behind-the-scenes drivers in Moscow said they barely noticed all of the stunt cars barrelling down the streets. For them it was business as usual. It actually reminded me of some highways I’ve seen in South America. Anybody who has ever been to either Peru, Ecuador, or in some cases Chile will confirm this.

Shooting style aside, what everyone can agree on is that “The Bourne Supremacy” is a superior action movie. It has a complicated plot involving C.I.A agents, a corrupt Russian oil magnate, assassins, and a man trying to his recall his past in the middle of it all. It has shootouts, explosions, foot chases in beautiful European cities, and one hell of a car chase.

The sequel is even better.

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