Here’s a message for everyone who has been bitching and moaning about the poor quality of films released this summer, particularly the less-than-exhilarating "threequels" — you can all shut up now. The Bourne Ultimatum is the biggest thrill ride of the year, the best of the Bourne trilogy and easily Matt Damon’s best film to date.
Forget about buying a drink and popcorn on the way in to the cinema — you'll just spill it all over yourself. Get a seatbelt instead, and strap yourself in for the wild ride ahead. Because this latest Bourne flick is just one long, non-stop chase — via car, foot, motorbike and rooftop. With the occasional explosive fight scene thrown in. That’s the entire plot right there in a nutshell. Jason Bourne (Damon) is out to find whoever wiped his memory and trained him to be a killing machine. Because although he's a killer, he's still got a conscience: "I can see the faces of everyone I ever killed. Somebody started this, and i'm gong to find them." His search takes him from Moscow to Paris to London to Madrid to Tangier to Turin (not necessarily in that order) and ultimately to New York and a final showdown with certain corrupt elements within the CIA.
But what a chase it is. From the outset, director Paul Greengrass (who needs to let the camera stay still occasionally) sets a cracking pace and barely lets his foot up off the accelerator for its almost 2-hour duration. The writing is sharp, and the supporting cast all deliver the goods. But as Jason Bourne (aka David Webb), this really is Matt Damon's film all the way.
And what a terrific actor he is showing himself to be. Since he broke into the big time with pal Ben Affleck and their Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, Damon has gone from strength to strength while Affleck's career has foundered. From Saving Private Ryan to Rounders, The Talented Mr Ripley, Ocean's 11, Syriana and The Departed, Damon has made some exceptional movie choices. Now the Bourne trilogy has put the stamp on his box-ffice worth and made him one of the world's most bankable stars. And with Bourne, Damon delivers a performance that is a joy to watch — he plays the character with a minimum of facial expressions or vocal inflections, a blank canvas onto which the audience can project its own emotions. Mind you, he's a blank canvas that can erupt into mind-numbing violence at the flick of an eye. Espionage thrillers really don’t get much better than this, and The Bourne Ultimatum has set the standard by which future films of this genre will be judged.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey ★★★★ With no obvious fanfare, tabloid-friendly off-screen frolics, celebrity casting or over-reliance on CGI, the Bourne movies have snuck in under the wire to be the best cinematic trilogy in recent years. If not ever. It’s not enough to declare The Bourne Ultimatum the best of the three — which it is — or the best of the summer’s "threequels" — which it is. No, you have to declare the whole saga nigh on perfect. There are flaws — the fact that Bourne learns his real name in this comes as a surprise to Bourne but no great surprise to those who remember the end of The Bourne Supremacy, while the Greengrass in-yer-face camera wielding is breathtakingly exciting most of the time but makes the car chases virtually impossible to follow — but no matter. It still rocks. And that’s with a capital "rocks".
The plot is pretty much more of the same. Matt Damon’s trained killer Bourne is out for revenge against the powers-that-be that turned him, and the others like him, into ruthless assassinating machines. This time, with the Treadstone project dismantled, the focus falls on Blackbriar — same idea, darker methods — and the personnel behind it. They need Bourne out of the way. Bourne wants them dead and the last few answers. Just not necessarily in that order.
Overlook the flaws — miniscule potatoes in the great scheme of things — and just enjoy this (oh please let it be the) final Bourne for what it is: an absolutely belting, deeply intelligent thriller that will leave you a sweaty-palmed, gibbering wreck. Damon continues to surprise while director Paul Greengrass could make paint-drying a visceral experience — so you can imagine what he does with, say, a 35 minute, chase and ultra-violent fight scene through the streets and houses of Tangier or 15 minutes of evasive action around London's Waterloo Station at rush hour. Add to that truly classy support from the likes of series regulars Joan Allen and Julia Stiles — plus David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Paddy Considine — and you’ve got the best film of an already brilliant saga.