Monday, August 27, 2007

Cinematographicus: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum is the best action movie in a long long time. To start with, it defies the law of sequels. The law of sequels states that whenever a film is made, any subsequent sequels will never be as good as the original. The law of sequels is best known in the Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones franchises, and most starkly, the Ghostbusters franchise. The first generation Batman films also follow this law. Some will claim that the Lord of the Rings defies the law of sequels. It does not, because the second two films are not sequels, they were conceived and created as a coherent whole, not as sequels.

There are exceptions to this law, but they are generally rare. It is fairly common for a second sequel to best the first sequel (again, see Back to the Future, Indiana Jones), but it is rare for the second sequel to best the original. The Bourne Ultimatum does it. And that's saying something because it's not like The Bourne Identity was a bad film.

The Bourne Ultimatum does a great job of keeping the plot tight and focused without making it predictable and boring. There are relatively few twists and turns, and it moves in a fairly regular fashion. However, the action moves quickly enough that it does not need to keep feeding you plot clues to keep you engaged. And it isn't just your average blood and guts Bruce Willis style action, either. Jason Bourne's combat is physical, but it is smart combat. It's not just a few guys trading punches or blowing things up until one dies, its thinking, dodging, running, attacking, improvising and using whatever is at hand to do it (this movie teaches us that a book and a towel can beat a candlestick---remember that next time you play Clue). This rapid pace is also helped along by a great musical score. It brings in the tension and suspense, but not enough to be cheesy; it does its job, but stays in the background.

Part of the focus of the plot was accomplished by leaving out the love interest. It was a good choice. The love interest in The Bourne Supremacy was interesting, but it stretched the plot a bit too thin. In this one, Julia Stiles is there to throw in just a taste of the girl getting saved by the special agent combatant, but it isn't overdone, and it doesn't get Bourne off track of his objective: finding out who he is.

Jason Bourne, like all action heroes, has the uncanny ability to heal ridiculously fast. But in this film, it seems less unrealistic then, say, the Rambo or Die Hard movies. The injuries aren't overdone, so the healing seems more believable. The only moment that the fast healing seemed a bit distracting was the motorcycle chase all over Morocco after getting thrown against a car by an explosion. But it's forgivable because its a part of the genre. It's the most believably done fast healing in recent memory. Perhaps this is because of the films focus on the mental combat abilities of Jason Bourne as much as the physical. Whereas the Die Hard films message seems to be "look, Bruce Willis is a really tough guy," the Bourne films are saying "Jason Bourne is incredibly smart, and he has the physical ability to back it up."

But in being a smart action thriller, it doesn't degenerate into a political polemic, like would be so easy. While it is clear that there are political good guys and political bad guys, there are no Jack Ryan boy scout speeches. (Those aren't necessarily a bad thing, but in this film they would have been distracting). Bourne does take sides, but the extent of his political speechmaking is limited to one question he asks almost at the very end of the movie. In this case, less is definitely more.

The Bourne Ultimatum is great because it preserves the hallmarks of the action movie genre but improves them by making them more believable. It's not good because it's novel or original or unique, necessarily; it's good because the filmmakers chose their goal, focused in on it, and executed it with almost flawless competence. That's a DVD three-pack worth owning.


The Shark said...

I didn't have time to read your entire post, but I read the first part and I have two comments:

#1: My brothers and I have discussed that this is possibly the best movie trilogy ever, as each film is strong as standalone movies yet support each other well as a set of films. Each of the Bourne movies is very enjoyable and good.

#2: I disagree with your "Indiana Jones" example. I think "The Last Crusade" is the best of the three, with "Lost Ark" being a very very close second. But that's just my opinion.

JKC said...

I agree with your #1. On your #2, I'll grant that Last Crusade and Lost Ark are very close. I just think Lost Ark ekes out ahead.

Cabeza said...

Agreed on all counts.