the bourne ultimatum (2007)

Way back when in 2002 I don't think anybody, definitely not the film's producers, could have foreseen the impact that the Bourne series was going to have on action filmmaking. At that time, The Bourne Identity was just another thriller in the summer overload; I can remember opting out to see Minority Report the weekend it was released, never imagining what the film would begin. But there was something special about that film, a new take on the tired spy genre, a new style waiting to emerge. To be honest, those were only the seeds, nothing truly emerged until Paul Greengrass took the series over with 2004's The Bourne Supremacy.  Finally, the fundamentals of the original (the gritty, realistic fight sequences, the conflicted hero)  melded with the Greengrass "documentary" (or as we all know it; "shaky cam") shooting style to create an aesthetic that is popping up in other tried and true franchises like Batman and James Bond. Now, we've made it to Jason Bourne's final outing, and it's quite a shock to find what began as a mediocre action pic has now become the first franchise in years to not majorly crap out in the home stretch. The Bourne Ultimatum is far from perfect (with many sequences that are either a retread or that start feeling very phoned-in) but when it comes to bringing a respectable final chapter to a trilogy, Greengrass has done this series proud. Finally, the summer of threequels has produced one that doesn't drop the ball. 

It also helps that this thing doesn't have an unfathomable amount of expectation riding on it, but that might be giving the job Greengrass and co. have done too little credit. I must confess though, I'm a little torn on how to rate this pic. As far as the part threes go, this is indisputably a success, making a third chapter is incredibly difficult, and even to have one that functions seems like it's asking too much when I think back to some of the other failures we've gotten lately. All in all though, no matter how much tension Greengrass tried to inject, no matter where the story went, there was something that felt bland about the film, something I'm having a hard time putting my finger on. It's exactly what I came to see, but that may be just it, it's exactly like the other two films, no extra zest to spice up the conclusion, no deviation from anything we've seen before. Bourne is on the run and keeps having random flashbacks. Whoa, big shocker there, do ya think the movie'll end with him arriving at the location where the flashbacks take place and fully remembering what happened? Hmmmm, maybe. And how the heck did I figure that out? Oh yeah, it's what happens in the second movie. I suppose there's nothing wrong with having flashbacks, I mean, this is a series about a guy who can't remember who he is, but the film didn't have to approach it as a such a given. It comes off like an obligation. Anyhow, the real clincher, for me anyway, came at the very beginning of the picture. We're not even given any opening credits before Bourne is on the run, the opening shot of the movie is Bourne limping away from some cops, but how the hell did he get there?? If I recall correctly we left him in New York City last time and all was well. Bourne keeps running and everyone keeps going and a couple of new characters jump in without much ado, suddenly we're off and running again, more people are chasing Bourne. You get it. Greengrass is incredibly eager to get this thing underway, so much so that he forgets to clue us in on his big switcheroo. In fact, he doesn't let us catch up with his thinking for over an hour. This could count as a spoiler, but fact is, it'll help you to know what's going on for 2/3 of the flick. That phone call that ends The Bourne Supremacy is apparently supposed to take place around the last act of The Bourne Ultimatum. Okay.... this kind of thing would usually be up my alley, it's a cool idea, but Greengrass would have needed to seed this earlier in the film so that we could join him for the ride. Hell, I thought the opening few minutes were a dream sequence for a while, it would have made just as much sense. In any case, by trying to keep up the chase every step of the way, Greengrass makes the mistake of leaving us with very little time to catch up with Bourne and the way the character is thinking. It's been three years, y'know, give us a minute or two with the guy to see where he stands. It makes the character seem colder in a way, and much more distant than the other two films where we felt what he was going through. We were with him as he slowly regained his memory, when his girlfriend was killed, when he took responsibility for his past actions. These were important moments in the films, we could identify with Bourne. Here, not so much. 

But none of this means that Greengrass doesn't have his head in the game when it comes to the action. This picture is mostly action, and for much of it, you wouldn't hear me complaining. The film's best segment is in the middle, when Julia Stiles' character, Nicky, is introduced back into the equation and a stunning chase sequence takes place through the streets and rooftops of Morocco. But, the chases end up feeling redundant by the picture's finale, where we end the film with yet another car chase. It's as if no one even questioned it for a second. Well, hey, this is a Bourne movie so we have to end with a car chase. right? That's how I felt about much of what was happening, sure much of it was effective, but it didn't stop it from just being more of the same stuff we'd seen in the first two films. The really novel part of the film is the way that they use Stiles' character, whose role has increased in size through all three films, and make her an integral part of this one's plot. She's never overused either which is refreshing, as a lesser film would have instantly turned her into a love interest. This film most definitely did not need that. Greengrass keeps the film tightly wound for much of its runtime and really squeezes all the tension he can out of each sequence. However, again, his use of the shaking camera should really be toned down. I just don't see its effectiveness in many cases. Especially when it begins to shake so much that it blurs the action in the fight and chase sequences. Or when it becomes downright distracting as two characters sit down to a lunch in a fancy restaurant and the camera won't stop moving around. This tool should be used to enhance the visceral impact of a scene, but Greengrass is almost frightened of pausing from his roller coaster rise, as if any sequence with a more peaceful tone would suddenly pull us out of the experience. Greengrass, the audience needs breathers, and if you don't give them some, they'll take their own when they please, and probably during an important scene of tension. Not a good decision on your part. Visceral impact, by the way, takes much of the credit for this film's success. When the story starts to feel like a paint-by-numbers, we can always count on the adrenaline in every segment to keep us going. That's why this film succeeds, that's why all three of these films succeed. Yeah, they're silly and goofy in some places, yeah the forced moments of Bourne's crafty phone calls that trick the bad guys can start getting hokey, but Greengrass plays it as fun, as a whirlwind and there's nothing wrong with that at all. The actors do a fine job here too, Damon being the best as always. His Bourne is always smooth and effective. Stiles does a nice job as well, and the inclusion of David Strathairn and Albert Finney are welcome and raise the film's panache and class up one bar. So, good show on the casting all around. Besides the shaky cam, the visuals pop and glide with that "gritty" look that's becoming so popular, these films are the reason why, their look is great. 

So yeah, if you liked the others, there's no reason at all not to get out there and see this thing, You'll get more of the same and that ought to satisfy your hunger for action and also there's ample wrap-up of the story in case you cared. I'm a little on the fence still as to how I should rate this thing. In some cases it under whelmed and the storyline started getting stale, but that's to be expected in part three, and it's not like I ever expected the film to be as good as it was. Oh well, I think I'll stick with giving it a nice 7, not too low and not too high. yeah, it underwhelmed in a few spots, but this was a great thing to see when it comes to ending a trilogy. It just proves that it's possible not to screw up your third time, and should be a lesson to all the other franchises who ended up doing just that. This is a nice ending let's just hope it's really the end.

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