On Second Thought: “The Bourne Supremacy”

Sequels take a beating, and with good reason. Typically they’re just done for the sole purpose of a studio making some quick and easy money. Sometimes no one wants one, but there it is. When that happens, the criticism is usually harsh. When a sequel is done, that’s given the time and proper care, it’s not only one that people wanted, but one they can stand by. Does it have to be an all out winner for the masses? No. It just needs to be the sequel that fans deserved.

The Universal Pictures film “The Bourne Supremacy”, is far superior to the original in that it ups the action and suspense, but remembers to draw in its audience through complex mysteries and human drama.

This action thriller stars Matt Damon (“Interstellar”, “The Monuments Men”), Franka Potente (“The Brigde”, “Copper”), Brian Cox (“Foresaken”, “The Slap (US TV series”), Julia Stiles (upcoming “Jason Bourne”, “Misconduct”), Karl Urban (upcoming “Pete’s Dragon”, “Star Trek Beyond”), Gabriel Mann (“The Mysteries of Laura”, “Revenge”), and Joan Allen (“The Family”, “Room”).

The film was directed by Paul Greengrass (upcoming “Jason Bourne”, “Captain Phillips”) and written by Tony Gilroy (“Duplicity”, “Michael Clayton”). It is based (quite loosely) on the novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum.

The film originally opened on July 23, 2004.

Night two! No, not the Democratic National Convention (DNC), which began tonight in Philadelphia, but of us discussing the action films that make up the “Bourne” franchise. Why am I doing this, especially since I just wrapped up the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise? Well, the newest sequel in this long running franchise is set to open this Friday! And as this is the thing I do now, which I’m still sort of regretting, I must follow through. Mind you, it’s a great way to remind myself of why I started to watch these films in the first place. I love this franchise! I find that it only got better as it went along, and there’s still life left. I’m excited for the new film, and right now, am enjoying revisiting these well made action films. Here’s why.

Everything feels bigger and more intense. It’s not simply because there’s more going on, although the twists and turns of the conspiracy are complex, but because there’s even more of the things we’re familiar with. The action and a bigger sense of urgency in the second plot of figuring out who ruined a CIA operation and why, propel us through. From the moment the film starts you’re back in the world, you don’t need to catch up, and you go with Damon on his quest for answers.

The thing, I discovered, that brings all of these elements together, other than the editor, is the score. John Powell (upcoming “Jason Bourne”, “Pan”), has created a score that doesn’t just amp you up during the intense action sequences, but is there through out, but does more than that. It pulls you along with that specific sense of urgency. Everything moves quickly and with purpose. You don’t ever really slow down, even when the scenes are slower and allow for the audience to catch their breath and discover more crucial information. This is where some suspense is also built. There’s a level of unpredictability in this film, I feel more so than the previous film, but also the score is drastically different, too, but I’ll get to that. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t seen this in a while and forgot what the execution of everything in this film was like. Regardless, the score comes in and connects it all together. I never got fully overwhelmed, but I still felt like I’d just been on a wild ride most of the time.

Jumping back to the score itself, I like it more. It was composed so well and arranged. Powell definitely took use of various instruments, and ended up finding the best way to create a score for a spy thriller, but also own that took you to the countries this film shot in. I don’t know why, but I love when composers incorporate aspects of the a countries culture into their score. Perhaps it’s just that there’s more of an authentic feeling to it all. Something like that.

When I wasn’t thinking about the amazing score, I was thinking about how this film came together. Not so much the absolute details of the film, which are incredible and worth learning about through special features, but how this film brought its two storylines together. Yes, there were two storylines. As Damon’s Bourne is in India, and Allen’s CIA operation is in Berlin, when it’s unexpectedly sabotaged, some effort has to be made to get all the players in the same room. This execution could’ve gone south or just seems forced, but it never did.

Every aspect was propelled by human drama and that was because of the characters. They needed to know, and responded emotionally and thoughtfully. This is another film that believes you’re smart enough and can follow when things start to get a bit more complicated and multiple parts are seen moving. It’s also the only way you discover more about Damon and Potente, as well as Allen, who’s the main new character. It’s also why I happen to love her character. She’s reasonable and smart all the way around. She just doesn’t make decisions based on emotion, but fact. Certainly explains why she’s as high in the Agency as she is.

But back to the two halves, just for a moment more. While the human drama and emotion was considerably less than the previous film, there was still enough there. You always understood a character and could see growth for Damon, as well as Allen, who was shown, at first, to be following evidence that wasn’t correct in what it was pointing to. You also got all of Damon’s story, which featured a lot of action sequences. These two were well balanced, and that makes a surprising difference. This film could’ve just been a film that had action in it, but it wanted to maintain the action title and expand on it. Give fans more, which would ultimately make it worth it. More fun! This, everyone involved did do.

Conspiracies are fun, and when plotted well can be as complex and difficult to follow as ever, so long as they’re not too tough to follow. If they are, you have a problem. This film certainly weaved in the conspiracy, because it eventually found its way to Damon’s Bourne, which is how he really puts himself on the same trail as the CIA. It’s smart. Which is something Gilroy manages to show with the entire film. All the way down to when action sequences occur.

I know it’s a weird thing to say, that the action sequences are character driven, but in this film they are. In some films, it feels like the writer(s) wrote about the action sequences first, and then stuck in the characters and whatever choices they would be making. This choices almost always ends up with a film that contains explosions, chases, and crashes, but little coherence as to how this happened and who’s involved. Fortunately, this is once again not the case. Each sequence has a purpose. Take for instance how we get into the big finale chase between Damon and Urban. Damon’s just going to do one thing and then Urban shows up to make trouble. Like with the other sequences, it’s a good one and it’s fast paced.

The sequences in this film are more thought out. They’re bigger and more intense. Again, I’m not sure if I have a favorite. Each one was shot and choreographed so well, that I could rewatch them numerous times and never get bored. The thing, at least that I can recall, that makes all of these action sequences stand out more, is how they were shot. You were there.

Take the first big sequence, when Potente’s Marie is accidentally killed. Right from the moment she gets into the car and Damon speeds off, your thrust into the action. You’re right behind them, and at one point you can almost tough Damon’s legs. By doing this, Greengrass gave you quick and easy access to what it’s like during this scene. You’re not a passive observer, but a part of the action. This also continues in the other ways the camera is utilized in these scenes. Sometimes it’s allowing you a look in from a different point of view, but it never pulls you from the moment. Even when a character’s being pursued on foot, you’re still thrust in enough and the film takes on a new kind of energy.

And then there’s the primary fight sequence. It just seems more intense and more thought out, even though the previous film’s standout fight sequence was well done too. Maybe it’s the filming style as well as the fact that it shows the levels of training that Damon knows. He just picks up that which is around him, as does his opponent. There’s no stopping them. Getting to see the actors do the fighting is a big reward, as they can add their own spin on the choreography, whatever suits the character, and well, we believe it more.

The chases, being well done, carry you from moment to moment and give you another way into the complex story being told. That’s actually just one of the other amazing things this film provides. Consistent energy. Without many major slow moments, you’re constantly on the go, and this pays off as the camera work that brought the action to life, brought the suspense and excitement of the CIA investigation and hunt for Bourne. Urgency is word I like, and because of the score and camerawork, watching Allen lead a team of CIA personnel, you’re able to stay in the world and be a part of it all. Again, you’re not some passive observer. You’re just another person in the room looking at a screen of some sort.

When you’re given a sequel, chances are it’s going to suck. It may be mildly entertaining, but it’s not a particularly good follow up to a film that really kicked things off. Then there are the rare exceptions. The film’s that aren’t only better than the original, but also just as smart. The film’s that give you exactly what you wanted from a sequel, and showed you how, in another director’s hands, a franchise can be okay, maybe even better off. For all that Doug Liman did, I find that Greengrass took the franchise and showed what its potential could be. Now we have an iconic character, and a franchise that just got better with each film.

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