Jason Bourne has come a long way since he turned up on that Italian fishing boat in "The Bourne Identity." He's still on a quest to find out who he is really is, but in the intervening five years he's racked up quite a body count.
In "The Bourne Ultimatum," the third and final installment in the franchise that also includes "The Bourne Supremacy," Matt Damon looks no more winded than he did at the start of the series. Which is a good thing, since he spends most of the movie being chased all over London, Tangiers, Moscow, Paris, Madrid, and, finally, New York. What, no Baghdad?
Director Paul Greengrass downplays the movie's travelogue aspects by repeating the bobbly, hand-held camera style he used on "The Bourne Supremacy." It's not a style I'm fond of. Instead of imparting a present-tense immediacy, it just me makes me sea sick.
Despite the nonstop bumpy ride, Bourne stands squarely in the center of the action at all times. He's like a human gyroscope. Bourne is an incongruous image: A master killer with a presence so anonymous he can easily blend into any crowd.
In the last film, he unleashed his revenge against those responsible for the assassination of his lover. In "The Bourne Ultimatum," he is brought out of hiding by a story in a British newspaper that is rife with informed speculation about his existence. By seeking out the story's reporter in order to track down his sources, Bourne opens himself up to yet another round of kill-or-be-killed gymnastics.
This time around, the defunct top-secret, black-ops program that "created" Bourne has been revived as the equally hush-hush Blackbriar. With its seemingly limitless supply of stealth assassins, this new CIA/Department of Defense joint venture has targeted Bourne as a rogue operative. He in turn has targeted them for making him their Frankenstein monster. Understandably enough, it's often unclear just who is shooting/punching/garroting/torching whom.
Damon has played a wide variety of roles in his career, but Bourne is likely to remain his signature part for some time to come. (Maybe that's why he said this installment is the last for him.) Within its highly circumscribed limits the part fits him like a glove (better that way – no fingerprints). In "The Talented Mr. Ripley," Damon was more charming than as Bourne. But Ripley was a saucy psychopath. Bourne's kills are inspired not by a murderer's lust but by the understandable need to keep on living.
Other stalwarts in the cast include David Strathairn as the Blackbriar honcho who wants Bourne good and dead, and Joan Allen, repeating her role from the previous film as the CIA operative who wants to keep Bourne good and alive. That's because she has, you know, scruples, plus she doesn't like what the agency has turned into. Torture and waterboarding and top-level assassinations are not what she signed on for. Question: Did she think she was joining the Campfire Girls?
Greengrass once co-wrote "Spycatcher – The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer," a personal account of a former MI5 secret service operative. He also directed "United 93." So it's no surprise that "The Bourne Ultimatum" is more politicized and up-to-the-minute than your average spy movie. But the relentlessly no-nonsense tone is a bit of a drag.
We are not, after all, watching "Battle of Algiers." A little more pulpiness, a few light moments, would have been welcome. This is why I prefer "Live Free or Die Hard" as a summer action film – at least in that one the filmmakers are winking at us. Here, as in that other new-style spy movie "Casino Royale," everything is hard and fast and brutal and, above all, straight-faced. No throwaway lines, no puns.
It makes sense: If Bourne told a joke he might expend valuable energy better utilized for offing the enemy. Grade: B
• Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action.