The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #16

They should have left him alone.

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English, Russian, German & Italian
Runtime: 108 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 23rd July 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 13th August 2004
First Seen: cinema, August 2004

Stars
Matt Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Departed)
Franka Potente (Blow, Romulus, My Father)
Brian Cox (Manhunter, X2)
Joan Allen (The Ice Storm, Death Race)
Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Dredd)

Director
Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, Green Zone)

Screenwriter
Tony Gilroy (Proof of Life, The Bourne Legacy)

Based on
The character of Jason Bourne, created by Robert Ludlum. Not so much based on The Bourne Supremacy, the novel by Robert Ludlum.

The Story
Bourne and Marie are living a quiet life in India, until he’s framed for the murder of two CIA agents and the theft of files they were acquiring. After the actual culprit tries to kill Bourne, he believes the CIA have tracked him down, and makes good on his promise to bring the fight to them…

Our Hero
Living a life of seclusion with Marie, but still struggling with resurfacing memories from his time as a CIA operative, Jason Bourne has no intention of going anywhere near his former life… until they come for him, and the gloves are off. Bryan Mills ain’t got nothing on Bourne’s particular set of skills.

Our Villains
A whole host of interests are aligned against Bourne this time. From within the CIA, corrupt director Ward Abbott is still trying to cover his ass. A more physical threat comes in the form of Russian operative Kirill, referred to in early drafts of the screenplay as “Mock-Bourne” because he, a) frames our hero, and b) is his equal — well, almost.

Best Supporting Character
Pamela Landy brings some complication to the CIA side of the story: she’s out to get Bourne, same as the fellas from the first film, but that’s because she’s been conned too. Will she see the light and side with our hero?

Memorable Quote
Nicky: “It’s not a mistake. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t do random. There’s always an objective. Always a target.”
Landy: “The objectives and targets always came from us. Who’s giving them to him now?”
Nicky: “Scary version? He is.”

Memorable Scene
In Munich, Bourne visits the one remaining Treadstone operative. They fight, using household items as weapons (see “making of”, below). Then a team of soldiers arrive. Bourne turns on the gas, shoves a magazine in the toaster, and… well, the result was disproved by MythBusters, but it’s still cool.

Technical Wizardry
The cinematography and editing, according to some.

Letting the Side Down
The cinematography and editing, according to some.

Making of
The film famously features Bourne using a rolled-up magazine as a weapon in a fight with another Treadstone operative. Fight coordinator Jeff Imada looked over the set after it had been dressed to get an idea of what would be lying around that could be used as a weapon, and had the idea of a rolled up magazine. He had to demonstrate to sceptical crew members that it would indeed be a functional weapon, but was helped by actors Matt Damon and Marton Csokas giving each other bruises from practising with it.

Previously on…
The Bourne Identity left enough hanging to help fuel this movie.

Next time…
Although Supremacy was designed to wrap up the mysteries left dangling from Identity, they found plenty to drive a third film, which completes the trilogy by answering those remaining questions. A fourth film was essentially a spin-off. This summer’s fifth film will be about… something…

Awards
2 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actor (Matt Damon))
2 World Stunt Awards (Best Work with a Vehicle, Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director)
1 World Stunt Award nomination (Best Fight)
2 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Action Sequence (the Moscow car chase))

What the Critics Said
“Greengrass keeps you off-balance throughout. When the fight scenes and car chases arrive, there’s no telling, from shot to shot, what we will see next or how we’ll see it. […] Working with cinematographer Oliver Wood, Greengrass shoots the fight scenes and chases so close in that we see some moments almost as a blur. The editors, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse, break those sequences up into quick jagged shots that key us up and keep us hyper-alert. The world is being broken into bits of information, and we look hard at the screen to take it in. The approach could have resulted in the usual visual gibberish that defines contemporary action moviemaking [but] you can always tell what’s going on” — Charles Taylor, Salon

Score: 81%

What the Public Say
“I thought the movie was shot well, though at times I felt that the shaky cam effect was overused, as instead of pulling you into the action, it just gives you a headache and a dizzy spell” — Zoë, The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger

Verdict

Debate used to rage about whether Identity or Supremacy was the better film, centred on their very differing directorial styles. Fans of Greengrass’ sequel seem to have settled on Ultimatum as their preferred Bourne instalment now, though, leaving Supremacy to be generally regarded as the least-best of the first three Bournes. That does it something of a disservice: it’s an exciting, twisty, complicated thriller, and its groundbreaking visuals can’t be ignored for their contribution to the action genre — for good or ill.

#17 will… always have Paris.

RED 2 (2013)

2015 #102
Dean Parisot | 116 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, France & Canada / English | 12 / PG-13

The “retired, extremely dangerous” agents return for more of the same.

“More of the same” is all the recommendation — or unrecommendation, or disrecommendation, or whatever the antonym of “recommendation” actually is — you really need. This isn’t a sequel for those who’ve not seen the first, because no effort is made to re-establish the world or characters. And if you disliked said forerunner, there’s no reason you’ll find this more to your taste.

If you did enjoy RED (like me), #2 isn’t as good — it’s lost too much zaniness, goes on too long — but it’s a pleasantly entertaining globetrotting action-comedy nonetheless.

3 out of 5

Ironclad (2011)

2012 #8
Jonathan English | 121 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | UK, USA & Germany / English | 15 / R

IroncladIn medieval times, a group of filmmakers set out to prove you can make a Hollywood-quality historical action epic with independent funding in Britain, while in the present day a ragtag group of seven samurai— sorry, gunslingers— sorry, warriors, defend a small town— sorry, castle, from evil bandits— sorry, an evil king.

I think I got some details confused there.

Set shortly after the signing of the Magna Carta, Ironclad tells the true story of King John not being very happy and, with the backing of the Pope, setting about reclaiming England. Violently. Naturally the men who forced him into scribbling on the famous document aren’t best pleased, so while some set off to persuade the French to invade, others hole up in Rochester castle, vital to John’s efforts as it controls trade routes to the rest of the country or something.

Firstly, I say “true story” — I have no idea how much fact has gone into this. Some, at least. Was John really supported by a Viking-ish army? Dunno. Were the Knights Templar really dead set against him? Dunno. Was Rochester really defended by a dozen men? Dunno. But this isn’t a history lecture, it’s a piece of entertainment — aiming for the same ballpark as Gladiator, Braveheart, Kingdom of Heaven, and so on, albeit less grand; and there’s a sort of connection to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood too, which I seem to remember included the signing of the Magna Carta.

Say hello to my little friendAnyway, it seems to me its use of facts are probably strong enough to support it as an entertainment. So some of the story structure may be reminiscent of Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, but it’s not the first to use that and it won’t be the last (and I’ve never seen either anyway. Bad me). And so the special effects-driven climax may occur on the wrong tower of the castle’s keep — I think we can live with that level of deception.

As to the point of “why not just go round the castle?”, I presume the answer is more or less, “well… he didn’t…” Somewhat thankfully, the commander of the Danish forces puts this very question to the King, whose answer is some muttered speech about how his family built it and… I dunno. I’m not clear why they can’t just use the massive camp next to the tiny castle as their appropriate base of operations, other than the film wouldn’t be half as exciting.

And exciting it of course is. There are stretches some may find dull — there’s little new to be done with the whole Recruiting The Team bit, and once John gets the castle under siege and everyone’s twiddling thumbs and eating horses some viewers will be doing one of the two as well — but there are regular bursts of sword-swinging violence that achieve the film’s primary aims. The fights are generally well staged, even if many resort to the modern vogue for close-up quick-cut handheld shakiness, and they’re certainly gory.

Violence!I’ve seen some complain about the level of graphic detail in this regard, but this is medieval times, they didn’t just bump each other about a bit; and you don’t think a giant axe swung down on someone’s shoulder with all a man’s weight is going to just leave a scratch, do you? Director Jonathan English doesn’t linger on detail as if this were a horror movie. There’s cleaved bodies, severed limbs, squirts of blood and more, and it all feels gruesomely realistic, but individually each moment passes quickly.

This is as appropriate a moment as any to mention that the film should be in the ratio 2.40:1, but the UK Blu-ray (and presumably DVD) was for some unknown reason mastered in a screen-filling 16:9 — I thought some of the shots looked tight! On the bright side it means English isn’t incompetent; on the dark side it means whoever mastered the UK Blu-ray is. (I’ve seen grabs from the US BD and that’s in the right ratio. Completely different special features too — a director’s commentary may well trump the half-hour of EPK interview snippets we get, for those that care.) I found this to be most blatant in dialogue scenes, where characters are barely squeezed into the extreme edges of the screen, with even the occasional moment of pan & scan required to get everyone who’s speaking on screen. I think it must also hamper the impact of the occasional epic shot — and there are a few — which is a shame because I think that feeling is really part of English’s aim here. PhwoarI imagine it also makes some of those fight scenes even more disorientating, which is a pity. Nothing will help the sometimes-too-obvious use of digital video though, which looks as nasty as ever.

The battling cast — led by James Purefoy and supported by the likes of Mackenzie Crook, Jason Flemyng and Jamie Foreman — all seem to have a whale of a time with their swords and axes and general fisticuffs. Their roles don’t offer too much depth, but only Flemyng (who I never rate) struggles. They’re supported by some talented thesps in the shape of Brian Cox, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance, quality actors who maybe don’t always have the greatest taste for quality roles (Dance was recently in that direct-to-DVD Tesco-funded Jackie Collins adaptation, for instance) but always offer gravitas. There’s also Kate Mara, who does a fine British accent as an unnecessary love interest for Purefoy’s warrior monk type.

The real star, though, is Paul Giamatti as King John. Petulant, entitled and fundamentally weak, he rants and raves and chews any piece of scenery he can get his teeth into (not literally, but at times I swear he came close). It’s a well-pitched performance — he doesn’t go too far with it, making the King ridiculous and laughable without dragging the whole film down around him. That makes for a good villain.

Despite some occasional cheapness in the cinematography, Ironclad largely achieves its goal of creating a Hollywood-esque historical action movie on British soil (it was shot in Wales). Yes some of the CGI is obvious, and some stuff that looks like CGI was apparently model work, but these are all forgivable, especially when you remember this was made for just $25 million. Villainous villainThe unfamiliar true story also gives it the added edge of not knowing who lives or dies, or whether our heroes even succeed. If the ultimate end feels guessable, I think it’s only in retrospect. Of course, that doesn’t mean any of it’s historically accurate anyway.

And so what? It’s an action movie. And on all points that matter, it scores well.

4 out of 5

Ironclad began on Sky Movies Premiere last night and continues daily throughout the week. I have no idea which aspect ratio it’s in.

It placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2012, which can be read in full here.