Five years ago, who'd have thought that Matt Damon would ever be an action star? Before 2002's excellent The Bourne Identity, I'm sure such a thought would have surprised him just as much. To be fair, this film didn't offer a totally original concept to seasoned action fans, but it still covered all the bases: great atmosphere, a mysterious main character, and (of course) loads of action. Still, the first two were what made Bourne Identity really special, and critics and fans alike showed their appreciation through their respective pens and wallets.
Based on a series of books by author Robert Ludlum, the first film followed a young man who was presumed dead in the middle of the ocean. After awakening, yet still unaware of his past, this young man---soon identified as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon)---would learn of his exceptional skills in combat. Determined to discover the secret of his past, Bourne was soon on the run (literally!) from the government agency that he used to work for. Trapped in a deadly cat-and-mouse game throughout the more scenic parts of Europe, Bourne and his unlikely partner Marie (played by Franke Potenete) were seeminly up against the world.
Just when you thought you were all up to speed, director Paul Greengrass went and turned the series sideways with The Bourne Supremacy (2004). This stripped-down sequel offers a more personal, gritty tone that really packs a wallop. Sure, there's a dose of familiar territory here: plenty of action, a handful of double-crosses and conspiracies, and even a car chase that manages to top the first outing. Yet despite the film's billing as a action filck, it's actually much more of a character study than The Bourne Identity. For the bulk of the film, Bourne is no longer in the company of accomplice and main squeeze Marie. He's a unique character that seems determined to do the right thing, but often times must act in an unheroic manner to survive. Damon plays this role perfectly, a thinking-man's action hero that relies more on brains and intuition than raw strength and heavy weaponry.
Outside of Damon's performance, there's a great supporting cast; most of which have returned from the first installment. Brian Cox (Rushmore) delivers another well-balanced performance as Ward Abbott, and Julia Stiles (Mona Lisa Smile) remains another pleasant surprise as Nicky. New to the franchise is Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings) as Kirill, who gets to do most of the Bourne-hunting. He delivers the necessary amount of energy and conviction, and he's more believable as a worthy adversary than your average action film nemesis.
As much as the overall look of the film has remained the same, director Greengrass has also created a tighter, more energetic way to tell the story. Although many complained of the overly-shaky camerawork, the production team was clearly aiming for a more rugged, documentary style. The kinetic action sequences and raw energy found in The Bourne Supremacy create more of a fly-on-the-wall perspective, rather than the first film's more traditional approach. For all intents and purposes, it's clearly a different experience overall: neither better or worse, just different. For a genre that's ripe with cliches and repetition, The Bourne Supremacy does a great job of keeping the series moving. The box-office success of this film---far surpassing that of the original---all but guarantees a third installment (which will most likely be based on Ludlum's third book, The Bourne Ultimatum). If it's as good as Supremacy, it'll be another welcome change from the tired action films we're used to.
The Bourne Identity proved to be a solid DVD release, but Universal complicated things with an unnecessary double-dip right before Supremacy hit theaters. While this second film features a well-rounded DVD presentation overall, it's not a perfect release but will easily satisfy fans of the film. From a great technical presentation to a nice mix of bonus materials, this one's a solid effort that should hold up to repeated viewings. Although I'd love to see an ever better release somewhere down the line, let's hope Universal does us a favor and spares us the gimmicky marketing routine. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
The dark, muted atmosphere of The Bourne Supremacy is captured perfectly on DVD, and it's a notable improvement over most theatrical experiences. Black levels remained rock solid throughout, and a well-rendered color palette gave this film a terrific atmosphere. This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer also has a high level of image detail and clarity (though it's not meant to be as polished as the first installment), rounding out an excellent video presentation overall.
Likewise, the film's audio presentation was equally impressive. Although the striking DTS track of the first film's initial release is strangely absent here, there's still an enjoyable 5.1 mix that gets the job done (available in English, French, and Spanish). The high-energy pace of the film makes for some memorable moments in the audio department, from the understated music score to the excellent car chase in the third act. Still, for all the film's thrilling scenes, The Bourne Supremacy still borders on a dialogue-driven movie, so there's plenty of times where sound activity is anchored squarely up front. Despite the excellent audio presentation overall, I'd still like to hear a DTS track if this film ever gets the double-dip treatment.
There's also a varied selection of short featurettes here, which are promotional in nature but offer some nice glimpses into the film's production. Self-explanatory highlights include Fight Training, Blowing Things Up (seen above), The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene, On the Move with Jason Bourne, and a short piece about Scoring the Film. Although I'd have preferred a more concise and organized behind-the-scenes documentary, it was nice to get a peek at so many of the film's various stages. Rounding out the bonus materials are a series of Biographies and Filmographies for the cast and crew. Universal's also seen fit to throw in a few forced trailers, though the trailer for this film is nowhere to be found. Not a stellar batch of extras, but they're certainly satisfactory.
Whether or not you're exciting about the original film becoming a franchise, there's no doubt in my mind that The Bourne Supremacy is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor. It's got nearly everything a successful sequel should have: a different approach to familiar territory, a more personal look at the main character, and a fast pace that really keeps things entertaining. While the Bourne saga doesn't bring an enormous amount of new ideas to the table, it successfully weaves an interesting plot, great characters and terrific locations together to create a solid franchise. Universal's DVD treatment isn't perfect, but it offers a hearty technical presentation combined with a decent selection of bonus materials. All things considered, this one's worth holding on to. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a mysterious art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.