Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Bourne Supremacy

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2004 at Loews Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

The Bourne Supremacy may not be the most unnecessary sequel of all time, but for most of its length, it's among the most lackluster. There are only a few points when it is actively bad (but oh, how frustrating those moments are), but its characters are so professional that they never get much chance to become individuals, and the movie only rarely rises above being completely mechanical.

Having a clockwork plot isn't necessarily a bad thing; I greatly enjoyed David Mamet's Spartan earlier this year. The Bourne Supremacy, however, loses its outsider fairly early on, which means that for much of the rest of this film, Matt Damon's Jason Bourne and Joan Allen's Pamela Landy (the CIA operations manager searching for him) are playing an elaborate game of spy vs. spy, and they are so professional about it that there's no emotional or character hook for the audience. Where The Bourne Identity had Franka Pontete's civilian character Marie and Bourne's own search for his identity, Supremacy only fleetingly offers human drama.

I would have liked to see more of Julia Stiles as Nicki, Chris Cooper's assistant from the previous adventure. She probably has less screen time than she did in Identity, but does more with it, as a meet with Bourne adds a jolt of fear to her professionalism. I felt like I had a better handle on her than I ever did on Ms. Allen's Pam, who comes off almost as robotic as Bourne here. There are comments from other CIA characters that Pam's getting in over her head, but those words are never backed up with evidence pro and con. Brian Cox also returns from the first movie as the CIA veteran who had had oversight on the Treadstone assassins.

A big positive for this movie is the location shooting. Bourne and company travel from Goa, India to Naples, Berlin, and Moscow, and for the most part the movies shot there, rather than trying to make Vancouver or a Los Angeles soundstage look like somewhere else. Each of the locations has its own personality, and that makes the scope of the film feel a little better. Also, as anyone who has seen Ronin will tell you, old and narrow European streets make for a much more exhilirating car chase, like the big one through Moscow that serves as this movie's climax should be.

::sigh:: That car chase. It suffers from the same malady as the rest of the movie's action scenes, which is Michael Bay disease - director Paul Greengrass is either unable or unwilling to just give the audience a clear shot at what is happening. This technique works, briefly, in the first chase scene, as it helps the audience share Marie's inability to process all that is happening so fast, but after that, the chaos serves no good purpose. You don't necessarily have to use slow-motion, but pull back a little, stick with a shot for more than half a second, and just basically try to communicate what's going on to us. The final car chase is so frustrating, because there are just enough quick glimpses to show that it could have been one of the greats - you can see how much traffic there is, how fast the cars are moving, and how Bourne and the other assassin are banging against each other, using their vehicles as weapons. But there's no feel for the geography, no flow from one shot to the next.

To make it more painful, John Powell contributes a better-than-decent score; you could argue that Powell does more to generate tension in this movie than anybody else. Damon does his job, finding a very good balance between showing that Bourne is absorbing punishment and pushing through it. And then, after the car chase, Damon finally gets a chance to talk to another character for more than two or three lines, and for more reason than just to move the plot to its next stop, and it's almost enough to redeem the movie.

Instead, it's just enough to keep me from writing off a third Bourne movie as an inherently bad idea. There was potential here, and that potential remains, but The Bourne Supremacy doesn't realize it.

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