Whenever I go see a sequel, I always wonder whether I should watch the previous installment in the series to refresh my memory about what’s going on. Sometimes it’s crucial to have all the facts and details from the earlier films; sometimes the specifics are negligible. I think The Bourne Ultimatum, the third part of the Bourne series, falls somewhere in the middle. If you’re intent on following the entire story, picking up on certain nuances and references in the third film, and understanding every scene, then I recommend viewing The Bourne Supremacy on DVD before hitting the theater. But if you simply want to go and enjoy a decent action flick, the refresher course is not necessary. I chose this latter route before seeing Ultimatum last night.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Former CIA assassin Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon) is still trying to uncover his true identity and find out what turned him into the killing machine that he is. As with the previous two films in the series, this involves Bourne tracking down a lead, being chased by CIA “assets” (assassins), escaping from them, tracking down another lead, being chased again, escaping again — a cycle that repeats throughout the entire 111-minute running time.
One of Bourne’s first leads in this film is a story that appears in the UK paper The Guardian. It’s written by a man named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), and alleges the existence of a top-secret CIA program named Blackbriar whose sole purpose is to churn out highly trained killers like Jason Bourne. After reading the article, Bourne thinks Ross has information that could be valuable to his quest, so he sets up a meeting.
Of course, the CIA, led by high-ranking official Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), already have Ross under surveillance. This makes a face-to-face meeting impossible, so Bourne is left to improvise with a prepaid cell phone at busy Waterloo Station. After a bunch of cat-and-mouse maneuvers between Bourne and the CIA, Ross ends up getting shot in the head. Bourne makes it over to the body and snatches a notebook before taking off again.
In the notebook, Bourne finds his second lead: the name Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton), a CIA agent who was Ross’ source for the story. This begins another lead-chase-escape cycle, one that takes Bourne to Madrid, Tangier, and finally New York City, where we get a repeated scene from the ending of Bourne Supremacy, and then several more scenes that take us to this movie’s conclusion.
Other key players in this film include agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), and Project Treadstone/Blackbriar mastermind Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney).
My Reaction: I probably should have watched Bourne Supremacy before going to see Ultimatum, because I had forgotten most of the things that occurred in the second film (it’s been three years, after all) and viewing that one again would have served to put many of the events of the third film in proper context. For example, I remembered that Supremacy ended with Bourne walking through NYC, so when Ultimatum started out in Moscow, I was a bit confused. Luckily, my husband was able to tell me what was going on.
Despite this initial confusion, I was soon able to get into the film and was surprised at how engrossing the whole thing was. Even though I found the action sequences to stretch the limits of credulity, that didn’t ruin my experience here. For some reason, it’s much easier for me to accept the possibility that Jason Bourne might survive these fights and car crashes than, say, John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard.
The one aspect of The Bourne Ultimatum that I absolutely hated was the shaky, hand-held camera effects favored by director Paul Greengrass. I literally had to stop watching the extended rooftop chase scene because the shaking camera was making me nauseous. Moreover, I’m not sure why Greengrass had to continue with this technique even when filming sit-down scenes.
Nevertheless, I still liked The Bourne Ultimatum overall. I give the film 4 stars out of 5 and recommend that you see it while it’s still in theaters!