Picking up two years after the events of the first film, The Bourne Supremacy finds former assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) living in India with his girlfriend, Marie (Franka Potente). Jason, who suffered from amnesia in the first film, is still finding his memory a bit clouded. In particular, Bourne continues to have a flashback to one rainy night that may have been his first assassination job.
But troubled memories turn out to be the least of his problems. In Germany, a CIA assignment gets botched, resulting in the killing of an important contact. The investigation of the crime scene that follows turns up a fingerprint that turns out to be Jason's. Soon the CIA, as well as the real culprits behind the botched job, are out to get Bourne. When one of them catch up with him and Marie in India, events are set into motion that bring Bourne back into a world he thought he had left behind for good.
2002's The Bourne Identity came as a complete and welcome surprise to this reviewer. Doug Liman's adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel may have taken liberties with the late author's work, but it was a nice homage to the type of thrillers movie-goers were treated to in the late '60s and '70s - a clever espionage film, set against handsome European locations, whose emphasis was more on character and plot and less on the car chases, action set pieces and explosions we get so much of in today's cinema.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same about The Bourne Supremacy, directed by Paul Greengrass, whose last film was the brilliant political drama Bloody Sunday. With that film, Greengrass showed that he was a director who knew how to build tension, develop characters we cared about and convincingly tell a story. The impact delivered by that film left the viewer emotionally drained by the content, yet exhilarated by the power of the talent this promising filmmaker displayed.
Where that talent was when he was making this film is beyond me. Granted, Tony Gilroy's convoluted, boring and ultimately pointless screenplay (I can't imagine Ludlum's novel of the same name being this weak) didn't give him all that much to work with. But even if he had a good screenplay to work from, the directorial focus of Greengrass seems to be more on fight and chase scenes than it is character and story.
I would like to say that those sections of the film are exciting, but Greengrass moves the camera around so damn much that you would think that he and cinematographer Oliver Wood had downed three quarts of coffee before each take. This is the first film since The Grinch where I had wished I took some Dramamine before going into the theatre.
Damon, who did a great job in the first film as the amnesiac assassin, simply goes through the motions en route to a fat pay cheque here. A decent scene of genuine emoting toward the end of the film aside, the depth to Damon's performance this time around is regulated to a scowl and a raised eyebrow. In film one, we got Jason Bourne, the conflicted spy. Here, he's Jason Bourne, action figure with Kung-Fu Grip and Permanent Scowl.
The solid but wasted ensemble cast joins Damon in phoning in their performances from the payroll office, including Joan Allen as an ambitious CIA officer out to nail Bourne for botching her Germany operation, and returning cast members Brian Cox (as a CIA head of the secret operation Bourne was part of), Potente and Julia Stiles (who still has little to do). I would include Lord Of The Rings alumni Karl Urban in that group, but since all he is required to do is crash cars, fire a gun and wear sunglasses, his blank performance suitably fits the character.
There is a third book in the Bourne series that can be made into a film, The Bourne Ultimatum. Should this film do as well financially as the original did, the film-makers would be wise to pay closer attention to the late author's novel. Who knows? Maybe then they'll come up with something worth watching.