The Bourne Trilogy Review (Now with Matt Damon!)

Jason Bourne is like a high tech computer to me. I appreciate all the features and capabilities when they are shown to me. I marvel at the efficiency and acknowledge all the know-how and skill that goes into painstakingly crafting every component of the product.

Just don’t ask me to gush about it or even describe the first thing about it.

With computers my understanding begins and ends with clicking and navigating to sites previously visited. Loading and unloading programs is a tortuous and at times horrifying thought, and if faced with even momentary setback my reflex action is to turn it off and on.

With Jason Bourne I stare blankly at the screen, drinking in the locations, performances and the complexity of the action sequences, I am just left a little empty by it all. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the films, far from it, I just don’t get as emotionally involved in each one as they pass by. And if you were to ask me to explain the plot in detail of any of the trilogy the following day after my viewing, you’d get a muttered two sentence incoherent summation (that would probably miss vital plot points) followed by “look it’s all pretty complicated… good though.”

The Bourne Identity

Bourne Free

The first film in the trilogy mightn’t be the best but it might be the easiest to follow, mainly because at the start of the film we know just as much as the principal character, that is to say nothing.

A very nearly dead body is rescued from icy waters by a fishing vessel in the middle of nowhere, as wet as Adrien Brody’s hanky and full of more holes than a pin cushion.

This 30-something man eventually comes to, not that it’s any help in clarifying how he came to be in that predicament in the first place. He has no memory. None.

No name, no memories or knowledge that might help explain anything from his past.

This man does have innate abilities and skills though, he can effortlessly converse in several languages and obviously moves and thinks differently to most.

The man pieces together evidence and clues and eventually uncovers quite a lot of information in a bank safe deposit box – far more information than he is ready for, but still not enough to explain the how, where, who and most importantly why.

This all comes in the following days spent mostly on the run, as (now) Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) continues his personal mission of discovery through Europe with an initially unwilling accomplice in Marie (Franka Potente) a scraggly hippie chick that Bourne quasi-car-jacked in the middle of the street, who nonetheless becomes his travelling buddy.

But why is Bourne on the run? That too becomes clearer, suffice to say that his reappearance on the map brings the attention of many people spread over multiple countries. People who are well resourced, exceedingly capable and apparently quite desperate to ‘touch base’ with Mr Bourne.

Naming and describing these people would be disingenuous and unfair. Some have larger roles and others bit parts, but the supporting cast is all top notch, with Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen and Julia Stiles among them.

The Bourne Identity is fast moving and compelling. The action sequences are sporadic but for the most part realistic.

Unfortunately in my opinion Doug Liman was the wrong director for this particular job. Where subsequent films slice out the unnecessary fluff and flair Liman occasionally can’t resist. A few noticeable touches and flourishes scream ‘look at me’ when the tone of the trilogy is mostly anything but, and the soundtrack is chock full of bland Euro-techno, again at odds with the subject matter.

Despite this I still quite like The Bourne Identity and suppose it could have been much, much worse. Who else to play a faceless everyman but Matt Damon, especially when it becomes evident that this ordinary man possesses quite extra-ordinary skills?

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. The first film in the trilogy is a voyage of self discovery in the most literal sense. The sequels are perhaps more skilfully crafted and technically more proficient, but nonetheless this is a quality intro to a series three films in and counting.

The Bourne Supremacy

Bourne Again

2 years have passed, and while Jason Bourne at least knows who he (sort of) is he still hasn’t learned a great deal more beyond the basics. Not for lack of effort, but it’s hard to lie low and glean information about one’s past when national security organisations are using the highest technology equipment to scour the globe searching for any trace of your existence.

Information about Bourne’s past – and something called ‘Treadstone’ – do become briefly and painfully available though, in the form of short sharp flashbacks and nightmares which often bring more questions than answers.

As you might expect the team with the biggest toys strikes first, with another faceless assassin (Karl Urban) drawing first blood. (A momentary digression: perfect casting there. Who better to be a faceless assassin than the undisputed king of the forgettable in Karl Urban? Even his own family don’t recognise him when he appears in a film. A surefire indicator of a film’s quality – or lack thereof – is how close Karl Urban is to the centre of the poster. The closer he is, the worse the film.)

Having been rudely uprooted from his peaceful remote digs, Bourne once again finds himself in a mission of discovery, on the run again from people of many nations with one uniform characteristic, they all seem to be carrying guns that they want to use on Bourne.

Again among the pursuers is the CIA. Brian Cox and Julia Stiles are back, with Joan Allen introduced as Pam, the leader of an investigation unit that has tagged two hits on Bourne in recent weeks. While some in the Agency feel that Bourne is a broken commodity that requires extermination, others aren’t so sure. Surely one or more of these guys can shed some light about Treadstone?

With the net closing in Bourne has little choice but to blow his own cover and head back to Europe to once again get to the bottom of things, dusting off some fake IDs and his knuckles in the process. While his fractured nightmares and partial memories frustrate and haunt him, some locales and people trigger his subconscious driving him ever closer to what he hopes will be closure.

One way or the other. (Of course we know there’s a third film…)

As with Jason Bourne the answers come to those who wait; has Bourne been framed? By who? Why? Where do the bloody Russians come into proceedings? Why do the Russians seemingly get involved in every film these days? Are they the new Nazis?

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Thankfully this film is somewhat more straightforward than its predecessor, with better action (Bourne treats a stolen taxi worse than the Blues Brothers), faster edits and plot development. And no Euro-techno.

I remember asking myself in one scene why Bourne was limping, then I recalled that he hurt that same leg a few hours (minutes of screentime) earlier. It sounds dumb but these little touches of realism aren’t usually part of an action film, these are the touches that set Bourne apart.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne Slippy

Jason Bourne doesn’t seem to have much downtime. He is either on the run, lying low or fighting a life or death struggle for the luxury of returning to one of the first two.

As Bourne 3 opens we find Bourne in running mode, this time in Moscow, where it seems he is ticking off his ’12 step program for remorseful assassins’, with this step being saying “Look I’m really sorry” to relatives of his former victims.

An intrepid investigative report Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) has put his investigating feet to work and linked together a whole bunch of people, agencies and recent occurrences, linking them all back to something called ‘Blackbriar’.

Treadstone is sooooo last (movie) week. Now we are all about the ‘Blackbriar’.

One recurring character in the timeline is Jason Bourne, who Ross names in his articles, openly suggesting he is responsible for certain killings, and pondering if he is in fact still alive.

Unlike Kanye West the CIA aren’t believers that any publicity is good publicity. They are particularly grumpy with this Ross character, and with poor old Jason Bourne once again having his name dragged into the public conscious they are anxious to once and for all confine the name of ‘Bourne, J’ to the obituaries.

This time around David Straithairn and Scott Glenn occupy senior positions in the Agency (that’s just what I call it for short), with Pam still about the place wondering just who is really the bad guy here.

With even more characters, re-remembered history and new events bringing more complexity to Bourne’s orbit than ever, it’s a little harder to keep track of everything. Unless that is you choose to remember this one rule of thumb: assume everyone who isn’t Matt Damon is at least mostly bad and you won’t often be wrong.

The beauty of Bourne 3 is that while the drama and thriller elements are compelling and intricate, the action sequences are perhaps the best in the series. There is a rooftop and alleyway footchase that will exhaust the viewer as much as Bourne himself, and a couple of car chases that frankly kick arse.

Is the third film in the Bourne series entertaining? The answer has to be ‘hell yes!’, but is it entirely plausible – especially where matters of security are concerned? Perhaps not. Spoiler-free: there are a couple of plot developments that –while surprising – beggar belief that they could really happen.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. The third film in the series (and last with Matt Damon) is clearly the best, with a great mix of action and thriller elements, and enough twists and turns to keep Chubby Checker happy.

Final Trilogy Rating – 7.5 / 10. At least prior to the release of Still-Bourne, the trilogy is that rarest of beasts; an intelligent, compelling series that demands attention, while with enough action to keep adrenalin junkies on the hook. Bourne doesn’t criss cross the globe haphazardly snapping necks or laying waste to entire populations – which is why Statham will never be Bourne – but when faced with no other alternative Bourne can certainly lay the smack down.

In each film so far at least it is Bourne against the world, sure sometimes he has a sympathiser but it is always Bourne who does the heavy lifting. In fact where he does have an offsider a large proportion of time is spent keeping him/her out of harm’s way.

There is also always a really bad guy, and then the regular unhelpful guys (sometimes both within the same organisation). Of course being regularly unhelpful isn’t the same death sentence that being truly bad is.

My only problem is with such circuitous plot lines and what seem to be interchangeable bad guys/gals, the films tend to blend into each other. Try this game for an example: watch any Bourne flick, then a week later try to explain in detail the plot events to someone else who has seen the film. The challenge is to not resort to phrases like “then some other guys start chasing him” or “then Bourne is on the run off again” without being able to explain why.

I know the second part is often hard for me. I caught myself wondering “Wait who is that guy again?” and “Why is this happening?” regularly throughout the six hour marathon.

But that might say more about my alcohol-affected brain cells than the films, which despite the occasional confusion remain entertaining and entirely watchable.

I look forward to catching the new Bourne entry with Hollywood’s favourite understudy Jeremy Renner, and only hope that they manage to come up with something new aside from playing another game of ‘Find the corrupt CIA guy’ (who replaced last movie’s one).

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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