The Bourne Ultimatum jumps straight into the action with indestructible überspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) injured and on the run in Moscow. There’s a lengthy chase scene with shaky cameras, insistently anxious music and killer fight segments, and it sets the stage for the hundred-odd minutes to come – this third installment in the franchise is short on plot and heavy on action. It’s a nerve-jangling thrill ride.
Director Paul Greengrass (United 93) returns to helm this possibly last film in the series, which brings back characters from the previous two pictures as the amnesiac Bourne gets closer than ever to finding out who he is, why he’s such a brilliant killer and who made him that way.
One notable addition to the cast is David Strathairn as a CIA chief with something to hide, and who has no qualms about assigning all of the CIA’s resources to killing Bourne. And the resources are impressive — the most sinister bad guy in Ultimatum is the post-9/11 international network of public cameras, and the ease with which government entities can listen in on cell phones and access computer files. Combined with Greengrass’ jittery pseudo-documentary style, the result is a paranoid roller coaster that feels as if it’s anchored firmly in real life.
Of course, Bourne remains a deliciously improbable character, a combination of James Bond, Jet Li and Remo Williams who can outfight, out-think and outrun any assassin his CIA masters throw at him. Damon’s boyish good looks have matured into a beefier sort of handsomeness, and he’s become much more believable in the role – but after the fourth or fifth spectacular car crash, it’s impossible not to giggle when Bourne escapes with just a few bruises. It’s a good sort of giggle, though.
While the film is somewhat slim on plot, that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in character development or that it doesn’t tie up loose ends from the first two films. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy beneath the frenetic main story, as Bourne begins to remember his past and his conscience starts to kick in. As much killing-as-entertainment as there is in films like these, it almost feels subversive for Bourne to acknowledge that his adversaries don’t even know why they’ve been sent to kill him, and that he feels regret that he’s taken so many lives.
But viewers who come strictly for the action won’t be disappointed. The entire film is one long cat-and-mouse game, with Bourne jumping from Moscow to Madrid to Morocco, with a brilliantly designed set piece in each location.
Greengrass creates a consistently exciting, intelligent thriller that takes Jason Bourne to a perfect, inevitable conclusion – back to the beginning. If the series really does end here, it’s a satisfying conclusion. But there’s another Bourne book in Robert Ludlum’s catalog, so we may see the superspy one more time.