If Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity is an exercise in controlled suspense, then The Bourne Supremacy manages to unleash everything caged within the first film. Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass takes the helm with this sequel, and it's clear that he has different plans for Jason Bourne. Gone are the restrained visuals and streamlined character depth, and in comes an erratic visual style and a thirst for revenge. Deciding whether Supremacy improves or topples downward in quality when compared to Liman's work is a tough call; instead, it's easier to say that it's a different way of going about the same mannerisms, carrying recognizable musical cues and Matt Damon's panache over into unfamiliar, brashly vigorous territory.
Adapted from Robert Ludlum's novel to only a meek degree, Supremacy takes place two years after the events in Identity, with Jason Bourne (Damon) and love interest Marie (Franka Potente) on the run from the CIA/Treadstone as anon residents in Goa, India. Even after everything that goes down at the end of the first picture, it appears as if the government's still trying to hunt them down when they spot a gruff assassin-type tailing them through the streets. Naturally, they drop what they're doing and flee; however, their escape from pursuers this time around isn't as successful as their flight from Paris. Because of the events in Goa, a fire is lit underneath Bourne to delve into the exact nature of his assignments -- which are, at least one of them, slowly creeping back into Jason's memory bank through indistinct yet intense flashes from his past.
Greengrass obviously paid attention to what worked in the first Bourne film, because he also concentrates on the bustle of activity at CIA headquarters as a way to give us frantic factoids about Bourne that he doesn't know. It's a wasp's hive of activity once Pamela Landy takes over the Treadstone hunt, with a lot of plotting, double-crossing, and backstabbing around a Russian intelligence mission gone awry, and Bourne happens to be the one getting the blame for its failure. Yet, ultimately, the extra layers that exist within The Bourne Supremacy -- all the business with the Russian spies and the neo-political chessmatch going on in the CIA -- are handled in a jumbled degree that makes them a bit more of a hindrance than an enhancement to the film's core drive. It tosses in cookie-cutter "twists" that are startling yet uninteresting in regards to the core narrative, creating little more than speedbumps that we cross. Because of that, it's wholly worth arguing that Supremacy loses a bit of the intelligence that made Identity such a crafty success.
Disposable characters are carted out amid the Russians scrambling to assassinate Bourne, as well as a blitz through a Rolodex of faces in the CIA's nerve center, and most of 'em don't add anything to the narrative. Without Chris Cooper to interchange with this time around, Brian Cox's character falls a bit flat against satisfying turns from Joan Allen and Julia Stiles as their respective characters. Joan Allen does build a decent character out of project leader Pamela Landy, evoking her dramatic talent as the root of her character's success as both an empathetic and bloodhound-worthy link to Bourne. But mostly, once it's all said and done, we really don't see more than Bourne vs. the CIA as a somewhat faceless mass, a wily little David vs. Goliath, and that's fine for Greengrass' aims. The characters mostly tag along with the twisty maze of a plot and lack the crispness and focus of Identity, even though all the pawns, bishops, and rooks at play are performed with aplomb.
What we ultimately care about is how Jason Bourne's sprinting, maneuvering, bullet-dodging and high-speed activity gets him out of harm's way and into the shadows, all while he learns more about his past in a fashion similar to snapping jigsaw puzzle pieces together -- something that Paul Greengrass holds on to well in this sequel. However, it's in the way he composes it all visually that's questionable -- intriguing and stylish, yet questionable. The second Bourne film again sees Oliver Wood return as cinematographer, so a like-minded visual design would be expected; however, director Greengrass brings his Bloody Sunday aesthetic to the series, emphasizing the erratic "shaky cam" documentary-style look. What he's gunning for is hyper-realism that plants us right next to Bourne, with violent shakes during hand-to-hand combat and a heavily-spasmed look to motion, but on top of that he also achieves a brash experience with the inconsistent motion. Give and take, I suppose, but it doesn't completely satisfy. Yes, you feel like you're right next to Bourne, but at times we simply want to stand back and marvel at what Bourne's doing instead of standing close like a bystander.
However, the visual construction doesn't stop The Bourne Supremacy from being quite a pulse-quickening exercise in espionage chessplay. Granted, we're taken through familiar territory -- chases on foot and behind the wheel of a car being most prominent -- but at least it's exciting. A hand-to-hand battle between Bourne and another Treadstone operative feels slightly boxy and claustrophobic due to the Greengrass style of photography, but the bluntness of their punchy tango makes it entertaining. Again, much of the intensity in Supremacy resides in Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, who's completely blossomed from a shaky yet driven character in Identity to a quintessential cold-blooded, reactive killing machine. Though still surgical with his movements, he's dropped the frenetic ramblings that he blurted out to Marie in Identity, staying silent and slick as he moves from location to location. His precision constricts his growth as a character, building up to an expected issue regarding the story since Bourne has no one to really trust at this point -- and his coldness ultimately causes the film to lack in character evolution. That's a purposeful sacrifice, though, because he's in a melancholy, focused tunnel that doesn't allow much outside influence to divert his attention from a core drive.
When standing back and looking at this as a complete picture, I can't help but feel like The Bourne Supremacy is little more than a meager, one-dimensional carryover to Doug Liman's picture, satisfying the need for cloak-and-dagger suspense but sacrificing a bit of acumen and depth in the process. There's nothing particularly distinct about this second entry, aside from it clearly being an extension of the story, yet it's still thrilling and engaging enough -- offering chases across the world, bullets flying, and massive amounts of tightly-realized and reality-bound thrills -- to satisfy a larger curiosity. But, hell, when it's all said and done, it's still superior in leaps and bounds to that of most thriller spy fare cranked out of the woodwork, only it's clearly more blunted and quaking when lined up against its predecessor.
Universal have officially decided to travel back down the oft-maligned route of offering a dual-sided HD/SD "combo disc", starting with the first three Bourne films as single-releases. One side contains the Blu-ray presentation already available in the Ultimate Bourne Collection (available both here and in the UK), while the other contains the most recent DVD release for each film. As HD-DVD adopters will remember, Universal had the lion's share of issues with several pressings in the now-debunked format. Thankfully, it seems as if these dual-sided combo pressings of the Bourne films are functional out of the gate, as both loaded up fine in JVC's XV-BP1 and Sony's Playstation 3 -- each playing from start to finish on JVC's player without a hitch.
Video and Audio:
Oliver Wood's 2.35:1 cinematography, whether you're sold on the look or not, looks excellent in Universal's 1080p VC-1 encode. Naturally, the most important aspect in this image comes in preserving the range of motion with little picture distortion or pixelation, which this Blu-ray handles well. High contrast and bold color timing are the nuts and bolts of the visuals, offering deep black levels and sumptuous depth rendering of the scenery flashing past Bourne from location to location. At first, we're treated to attractive scenery along the temperate, beautifully quaint oceanside Goa, India, where the sun-baked imagery gives us a refreshing bit of deeply dimensional beauty before it all goes icy. And, naturally, everything outside of the CIA office is coated in slate blues and grays in the metropolitan jungles, demonstrating the encode's fine ability to handle fluctuating contrast. It's a dark, grainy image, and also a bit flat and overly speckled in a few scenarios -- notably in degrees during interior shots within the CIA nerve center. Still, it's a great image that preserves the slick look of the film, landing every element needed from the style.
Just like all of the films from the series, The Bourne Supremacy sports a brilliant sound mix with a wealth of punch -- and this DTS HD Master Audio track delivers. Again, John Powell's score stands front and center, pulsating across the entire soundstage here and fueling the suspense forward. Contained punches and thumps during hand-to-hand combat sequences thunder to the lower and midrange bass channels, while a few gunshots and upper-end effects pleasantly push upwards on the track's shelf. Dialogue has one or two issues with being only moderately balanced against the music, which lowers the audibility down a little bit, but the overall punch behind this track really makes you feel the kinetic energy director Greengrass wants to convey in his picture.
All of the special features from the HD-DVD are available on the Blu-ray, along with BD-Live access and U-Control -- including The Bourne Dossier and Bourne Orientation portions, with the Picture-in-Picture elements, that largely regurgitate textual data and fresh interviews that cover similar material to the forthcoming supplements. First and foremost, the Feature Commentary with Paul Greengrass has been included again -- which is mostly a blunt and ho-hum track that communicates a lot of obvious character points and veers away from much in the way of content intrigue. Also, a couple of new supplements arrive on this Blu-ray that weren't included on the original Supremacy DVD, which is comprised of the second parts of The Bourne Mastermind (4:42) and The Bourne Diagnosis (5:39) which glides over Robert Ludlum and Jason Bourne as a character.
Aside from that, everything we have here replicates the high-number, only moderately dense array of special features available from the first Supremacy presentation. Along with seven minutes of "Explosive" Deleted Scenes (7:13), we've got a few interview-laden, somewhat obvious special features -- Matching Identities (5:39), which covers retaining the original cast and finding the series' newst acquisitions, Keeping it Real (5:00), which covers the reasoning behind selecting Greengrass as director, Blowing Things Up (4:02), which annotates the safety measures and intricate planning behind, well, blowing things up in the film, and On the Move with Jason Bourne (4:52), which covers the selection process for its locations.
Delving a bit more into the mechanics of the action, Bourne to be Wild: Fight Training (4:23) focuses mostly on the hand-to-hand sequence between our hero and another Treadstone agent, Crash Cam: Racing through the Streets of Moscow (5:58) illustrates how they achieved the photography for the rather good car chase sequence, the Go-Mobile (6:50) piece which covers the "no acting required" device that puts the driver in a safe moving version of a car, and the Anatony of a Scene: The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene (4:43) featurette covering the coordination needed for that gripping foot race. Rounding things out, a piece of Scoring with John Powell (4:49) covers how they crafted the music in a way that develops with the story.
It's interesting to consider the fact that two different directors can create films in the same action franchise that feel both similar and drastically different at the same time, but that's exactly what's happened with The Bourne Supremacy and the adaptations of Robert Ludlum's novels. Paul Greengrass brings a more visceral aesthetic to the table, shaking the viewer around in a fashion that takes us more into the action instead of simply offering a mystery unfolding before our eyes. Powering along with another John Powell score that rhythmically gyrates us through the immensely well-built tension, it's a thoroughly worthy sequel that continues the story arc in a fashion much more tightly-tailored than that of other spy-fueled thriller narratives. Universal's Blu-ray carries over the content available on previous incarnations of Supremacy, which includes a rich VC-1 visual encode and a stellar arrangement of special features -- as well as a bowl-you-over DTS HD Master Audio track that grasps the natural surround effects and blistering score with precision. However, you've got to consider the fact that this is the center block in a "trilogy", which would ultimately assume that you're going to be interested in the first and third pictures. Due to that, and the fact that there are better ways of obtaining the entire trilogy, the film and Universal's disc only come with a firm Recommendation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site