Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Reviews: "The Bourne Identity" (2002) and "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004)

It's summertime, and that means it's time for sequels. I'm not going into a rant about how there are too many sequels, because its been done more eloquently by others and the studios don't seem to give a damn anyway. Instead, I try and remember movies that are worthy of sequels, such as certain movies based on a book that is the first of a series. Instead of hiring half a dozen hacks to cobble together a script with the same characters and bigger explosions in order to cash in, you can take the depth of material that already exists about these characters that moviegoers have embraced. After all, it worked for James Bond (for the first dozen movies, anyway).

Leave it to another spy series to pick the idea back up again. Robert Ludlum's "Bourne" series has entertained his fans for years. Out of these books emerged "The Bourne Identity" in 2002 and "The Bourne Supremacy" in 2004. The first movie begins the story Jason Bourne, a deadly spy/assassin for the CIA who contracts amnesia after a botched job. Now he is desperately trying to evade his former comrades who are trying to eliminate him. Along the way, he hooks up with a gypsy named Marie who tries to help him recover from his disability. The second film finds him in hiding with Marie in India, where he is still plagued by flashbacks of a violent history he still cannot remember fully. Unfortunately for them, someone has framed him for the killing of two men in Berlin, and now he finds himself on the run again from the CIA as well as what seems at times to be the entire European police community.

Doug Liman directed "Bourne Identity" with an eye for character development as well as action. He wanted the movie to be first and foremost about the confused journey the protagonist goes on in search for his past. Marie, instead of acting as the obligatory love interest, goes along with him as someone who seems equally lost and wanting to join Bourne in finding a path. "The Bourne Supremacy" was directed by Paul Greengrass, who had recently directed the film "Bloody Sunday"about a massacre of an Irish civil rights protest in 1972. He brings the same grittiness to his tale of Bourne as he runs through the urban jungles of Berlin and Moscow.

Although the directors have changed, all the actors that survived the first film have returned for this one. Aside from the benefit of continuity, all the supporting players acquit themselves well with spouting out spy-language and looking intense. As for Matt Damon, the results are mixed. In the first he was a confused and panicky man who could fall into autopilot in order to dispatch villains with the greatest of ease. In the second, it's nearly all autopilot. He is motivated so strongly by revenge that he allows his lethal skills to take over entirely. After all, that's what they're there for. His unstoppable force of a character is cool to watch as he plans and improvises, but I would have liked to have seen some additional anguish shown by his character.

The action in both is different as well. In the first, Bourne is presented as a very quick and fluid fighter, disarming opponents and using their own weapons against them. It really is Damon doing all that stuff, albeit in a quickly-cut way to make him look more like Jackie Chan than he actually is. These action scenes are fun, exciting and well paced. The second film's action is darker as in the scene where Bourne meets up with a retired CIA agent and has to fight him hand-to-hand. The combat is brutal with no music to get in the way of it. Often, all you see are two dark silhouettes pounding on eachother against the white shaded windows. The final car chase pummels you along with Bourne as cameras catch the interior of his car as he is slammed into over and over again. This last scene runs a little long and you end up feeling as tired as Bourne by the time they are over.

The camera work in the two films should be mentioned. In the first, it is clean and crisp and the viewer can easily follow along with the action. For the second film, handhelds are used a majority of the time and makes for some jittery scenes. As I said, the director is obviously going for gritty, and this is part of it. However, some of the action is hard to follow with this technique and can easily lead to headaches (I felt the same about the first battle scene in "Gladiator" and the entire film "Spy Games"). For those of you who get motion sickness, you have been warned. 

The movies work far better as one entity so that viewers can view the entirety of Bourne's character arc. Apart, "Identity" functions as an above average thriller with a brain and "Supremacy" works as a slightly less effective one that is still thrilling.

"The Bourne Identity": Eight out of Ten
"The Bourne Supremacy": Seven out of Ten
Both films combined: Nine out of Ten

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