2002's "The Bourne Identity
" was an action-mystery whose commonplace plotting was smartly offset by its studied throwback to thrillers often seen in the '70s, where dialogue took a back-seat to tightly constructed visuals to tell a story. Based on the second novel in the series by Robert Ludlum, "The Bourne Supremacy" approaches matters in a similar, consistent fashion, but with one ill-advised differencewhereas amnesiac protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) had consoling companion Marie (Franka Potente) to talk to and connect with in the original, here he is almost entirely on his own. With next to no dialogue given to Jason outside of his heated phone calls and confrontations with CIA operatives, the humane core of the story has been stripped away, leaving Jason an uninteresting, undynamic bore.
Two years have passed since the events of the predecessor, and Jason Bourne, once a trained assassin who suffered amnesia after being shot and left for dead, is laying low in India. Still experiencing nightmares and flashes of the past, Jason continues to try to piece together his former life. That dangerous life once again comes back to haunt him when he is framed for a botched CIA operation leaving two men dead. With a CIA team, headed by Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), hot on his trail, Jason begins a cat-and-mouse game with them as he attempts to clear his name for a crime he has no idea about.
Directed by Peter Greengrass (2002's "Bloody Sunday"), taking over for Doug Liman, "The Bourne Supremacy" is a cold, calculating virtual redux of "The Bourne Identity
" that leaves a bitter aftertaste in its wake. As Jason Bourne's journey to clear his name takes him from India to Germany to Russia (an excuse for some impressive location shooting), twists and double-crosses mount in a plot that is notably more intricate this time around, but still strenuously by-the-numbers. Jason fights and is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way of the truth. The CIA team busily type away at computers, charting their subject's every move as they try to look experienced and no-nonsense. Occasionally there is a car chase to spice things up for the viewers who care about nothing but generic action. People get killed, usually those that had it coming to them. Jason slowly learns more about himself, although not nearly enough to be of real note. Audiences have seen this all before, many times over, and "The Bourne Supremacy" is so reliant on its cliched narrative telling that it forgets to make them care about Jason.
Matt Damon (2003's "Stuck on You
") has no trouble slinking back into the physically demanding, terminally conflicted role of Jason Bourne, but he struggles to recapture his soul this time around. Save for one quietly raw sequence near the end between himself and a teenager girl (Oksana Akinshina) with ties to one of his former targets as an assassin, Damon is asked to mostly drive around, run away, and generally look serious. The connection to him is gone, as is his gentle romance with Marie from the first picture. Franka Potente (2001's "Blow
"), who receives curious second billing, fades into the background very quickly in what is more or less a cameo appearance. This decision alters what the film could have been enough to sabotage its outcome. Had Marie set out with Jason, at least he would have had someone to talk to.
Also returning for encore performances are Brian Cox (2004's "Troy
"), his part expanded as CIA head Ward Abbott, and Julia Stiles (2004's "The Prince & Me
"), again given the short thrift as Nicolette, Abbott's go-to girl. Stiles has a little more to do than just talk into a telephone (as she did in the original), but she frustratingly disappears quickly before any closure is given to her character. As Pamela Landy, Joan Allen (2004's "The Notebook
") more or less picks up where Chris Cooper's now-deceased character left off. She is wasted.
"The Bourne Supremacy" is captivating on occasion, thanks to a relentless editing style by Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse that makes even telephone exchanges and web-surfing assuredly taut. Director Peter Greengrass and cinematographer Oliver Wood (2003's "Freaky Friday
") also use shaky, hand-held camerawork effectively to give viewers a documentary essence. What these fine technical credits cannot subdue is the meanspirited, downbeat streak that runs through the center of "The Bourne Supremacy," sucking out any pleasure the experience of watching it could have had. Everything is so excessively dark in Jason Bourne's life, and there is no release to his misery in the form of a sorely lacking confidante or even a light at the end of the tunnel. This character was happy at the end of "The Bourne Identity
." His story would have been better off ending right there.