Jaw clenched, brow knotted, Matt Damon hurtles through The Bourne Ultimatum like a missile. He's a man on a mission, our Matt, and so too is his character, Jason Bourne, the near-mystically enhanced super-spy who, after losing his memory and all sense of self, has come to realize that he has also lost part of his soul. For Bourne, who rises and rises again in this fantastically kinetic, propulsive film, resurrection is the name of the game, just as it is for franchises.
Their sights set far beyond the usual genre coordinates, the three Bourne movies drill into your psyche as well as into your body. They're unusually smart works of industrial entertainment, with action choreography that's as well considered as the direction. Doug Liman held the reins on the first movie, with Paul Greengrass taking over for the second and third installments. And while the two men take different approaches to similar material (the more formally bold Greengrass shatters movie space like glass), each embraces an ethos that's at odds with the no pain, no gain, no brain mind-set that characterizes too many such flicks. Namely remorse: In these movies, you don't just feel Bourne's hurt, you feel the hurt of everyone he kills.
The Bourne Ultimatum picks up where The Bourne Supremacy left off, with this former black-bag specialist for the CIA grimly, inexorably moving toward final resolution. After a brush with happiness with the German woman (Franka Potente) he met in the first movie (The Bourne Identity) and soon lost in the second, he has landed in London. Stripped of his identity, his country and love, Bourne is now very much a man alone, existentially and otherwise. Damon makes him haunted, brooding and dark. The light seems to have gone out in his eyes, and the skin stretches so tightly across his cantilevered cheekbones that you can see the outline of his skull, its macabre silhouette. He looks like death in more ways than one.
DIRECTED BY: PAUL GREENGRASS
STARRING: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch)
RUNNING TIME: 111 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Death becomes the Bourne series, which, in contrast to most big-studio action movies, insists that we pay attention and respect to all the flying, back-flipping and failing bodies. There's no shortage of pop pleasure here, but the fun of these films never comes from watching men die. It's easy to make people watch - just blow up a car, slit someone's throat. The hard part is making them watch while also making them think about what exactly it is that they're watching.
That's a bit of a trick, because forcing us to look at the unspeakable risks losing us, though in the Bourne series it has made for necessary surprises, like Potente's character's vomiting in the first movie because she has just seen a man fling himself out of a window to his death.
That scene quickly established the underlying seriousness of the series, particularly with respect to violence. There's a similarly significant scene in the new film, which caps a beyond-belief chase sequence in which Bourne runs and runs and runs, leaping from one sun-blasted roof to the next and diving into open windows as the cops hotfoot after him. He's trying to chase down a man who's trying to chase down Bourne's erstwhile colleague, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles).
When Bourne comes fist-to-fist with the other man, Greengrass throws the camera, and us along with it, smack in the middle. It's thrilling at first, and then - as the blows continue to fall, the bodies slow down, and a book is slammed, spine out, into one man's neck - ghastly.