Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rank 'Em: The Jason Bourne Movies

I don't think that we've seen the last of super spy Jason Bourne in movie theaters, but it's probably going to be a while until the next installment of his adventures. The spinoff didn't garner much interest, it's too early to reboot the series, and Matt Damon, despite his recent box office troubles, doesn't seem keen on coming back to "Bourne" any time soon - and nobody's going to risk recasting the part. So, this is as good time to take stock of the five theatrical films in the franchise to date (which means I'm leaving out the Richard Chamberlain TV movie adaptation of "The Bourne Identity" made in 1988). I've ranked them from best to worst below. There will be some minor spoilers ahead.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) - I find it difficult to distinguish between "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum" because they're stylistically so similar and they feel like two parts of the same narrative. However, "Supremacy" wins the top spot for establishing so many of the elements that I associate with the "Bourne" films - Paul Greengrass's iconic shakeycam chase scenes, Pam Landry being a stone cold badass, and all the cloak and dagger business around Project Treadstone. It also has my favorite ending out of any of the films - apparently a last minute addition that Greengrass and Damon came up with two weeks before the film's release.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - This movie gives up all the answers to the questions asked in the first two films, and does so in a very satisfying fashion. The character getting a sense of closure and an endpoint to his character arc is something that James Bond never had. It's also a lot of fun to see all the ways that Paul Greengrass found to tie all three of the existing "Bourne" films together, really making them feel like one narrative. While I find "Ultimatum" has the best story of any of the films, and the critical notices definitely reflect this, the use of the shakeycam got to be too much for me at times. So it'll have to settle for second place, but only by a hair.

The Bourne Identity (2002) - The first "Bourne" film, directed by Doug Liman, is a perfectly good action adventure blockbuster. It feels a little generic in retrospect, with its romantic subplot and superspy with amnesia gimmick, but it proved that Matt Damon could be a very compelling action hero. I also enjoy Franka Potente here as Marie, and was always a little sorry that she didn't get to play much of a role in the sequels. "Identity," however, was a very different kind of film than its sequels, much lighter and more fantastical in its construction. Poor Marie simply didn't fit into the grimmer tone of the later, more ambitious "Bourne" installments.

The Bourne Legacy (2012) - The unsung hero of the "Bourne" franchise is Tony Gilroy, who scripted all the movies except for the most recent one. For the spinoff, he takes on directing duties with Jeremy Renner as the new leading man. Everyone does a very good job, and I was disappointed when it became clear that we weren't going to be getting any sequels to continue the Operation Outcome storyline. Aaron Cross is an interesting character and the new baddie played by Edward Norton has a lot of potential. The ending is a little weak, but I love some of the other sequences, especially the shootout with Zeljko Ivanek at the research lab.

Jason Bourne (2016) - I don't know what went wrong here, but it went very wrong. Maybe it was because Tony Gilroy wasn't involved. Maybe it was because the Treadstone and Blackbriar villains were replaced with the much weaker Alicia Vikander and Tommy Lee Jones characters. Maybe there just wasn't enough creative fuel left after the spectacular finale of "Ultimatum." Maybe everyone just waited too long. Anyhow, Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass couldn't get Jason Bourne back in fighting shape. The film made plenty of money, but felt creatively dead. It's a shame that the series had to end with its worst entry, but then most franchises inevitably do.


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