The Jason Bourne trilogy is certainly an anomaly, as one could make the case for each and every film being superior to the others, not only in personal opinion, but in storytelling aspects and cinematic construct. Each film has a distinct attitude and theme, and each, in some way or another, is capable of standing apart as an individual film, not just another chapter in a tale that require extensive background knowledge. A simple revisiting of the series gave me newfound respect for what I felt was the most over-hyped and over-rated entry, 'The Bourne Ultimatum.' The trilogy's final act certainly made the most at the box office, a testament to the growing legion of fans, and, while leaving the door open for more films, 'Ultimatum' gave a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Jason Bourne, just in case the future is free from Matt Damon, super spy.
'The Bourne Ultimatum' picks up right after the cataclysmic chase in Moscow found in 'The Bourne Supremacy.' Bourne (Damon) has some clues about his past, but is still, for the most part, unaware of all the circumstances revolving around Treadstone and what truly happened to him. When a London based reporter (Paddy Considine) begins a series of articles concerning the mystery around Bourne, and delves too deeply into a U.S. operation known as Blackbriar, Bourne is again thrust into the spotlight of the shadowy side of the agency trying to silence their rogue amnesiac assassin. Led by CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), the task is more about killing anyone and everyone in their path, and letting someone below his rank sort it all out. Bourne is on the run again, through the Russia, the UK and USA (tying into the ending in 'Supremacy'), Spain, France, and Morocco, digging up the past before it is gone forever, avoiding the attempts on his life by his former employers, and trying to put an end to the vicious circle that cost him more than just his memories.
What a difference a second go round made on this film. While I initially felt 'Ultimatum' was all shaky hype with little heart, this repeat run opened my eyes to many more themes in the story that made it a fantastic endcap to the series, so much so that a fourth entry would only ruin the perfectly fitting finale. Any film about amnesiacs will dwell in the past, just as previous Bourne films have, but what sets 'Ultimatum' apart is the promise of a future, of sorts, finally the light at the end of the tunnel. If it took twenty films to get to the truth, audiences would more than likely be tired of the twists and turns along the road, but by delivering the goods, rather than constantly teasing and ret-conning the story, satisfaction is attained.
Damon is as solid as he was in any previous Bourne film, and any further explanation is beating a dead horse. He's believable in his own curiosity, and in his ass kicking abilities. Joan Allen returns as Pam Landy in a back-burner role, but she doesn't steal the show or the viewers eye as she did in 'Supremacy.' Strathairn picks up where Cox and Cooper left off, providing a truly ominous, virtually unstoppable bulldog of a villain, and he does the part proud. It's nearly impossible to root for him and his actions. Albert Finney ('Big Fish') gets a light cameo vital to the turning point in the film, but the big surprise comes from the least likely of places.
Julia Stiles. Her character, Nicky Parsons, was about as one dimensional and under-utilized as any that appeared in the first two films, but with Marie (Franka Potente) out of the picture, she gets a bump into leading lady territory, and does a sparkling job (while the writing surrounding the character is as good as any). Her character arc cleverly pays homage to the role of Marie in 'Identity,' from the streaks in her hair, to the bobbed dye-job she is given to conceal herself when her situation goes awry. You can almost see a character connection between Parsons and Bourne, but seemingly watch it all disappear due to Bourne's knowledge of what happens to anyone who associates with him, and what almost happened to his newfound ally. It's a compelling storytelling, to say the least.
The varying situations in each locale are also unique, as each individual country has its own theme and danger for Bourne. In the UK, the scenery is full of suspense and the basics of espionage, outmaneuvering human targets while hiding in plain sight. Russia is all about escape, while the United States is all redemption and truth. The kicker has to be Tangiers, Morocco. Seemingly directly channeling themes from the essential 'La Battaglia di Algeri' ('The Battle of Algiers'), the African locale is the first Bourne setting to use modern themes of random terrorism. The chase is thrilling, and the set up even more exciting, it's just ideal, a perfect fit for the film.
While I was far more impressed with 'The Bourne Ultimatum' the second time through, I still couldn't help but notice the flaws along the way. Every flashback is horribly aggravating, while the shaky cam gives off a lightly disorienting/nauseating feel. Characters undergo unexplained random change, for the sake of the story, as well. Still, the acting is on par with the other films, the villain, while less calculating and methodical, is more vindictive and sinister, and the action (especially the car chases) are kicked up a notch, to the point that it would be hard to top them. Action fans rejoice for 'The Bourne Ultimatum,' but those in search of a superior story should still head back to the original.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Bourne Ultimatum' was nowhere to be found when normally scheduled for release, and rumors are rampant of a recall of some kind being involved. The slipcover and back cover bear the marking of a red dot on the lower right hand side, distinctions that neither of the other Bourne films which were released at the same time carried. That said, I experienced zero playback issues with 'Ultimatum.' Critics of the new combo/flipper discs may point to the delay as a sign the discs will not function accordingly, but it's hard to argue with results. The disc is a BD50 dual layer disc, with a DVD9 on the flip side, with no pre-menu trailers.
The 2.40:1 VC-1/1080p encode provided for 'The Bourne Ultimatum' is every bit as good as it was when it first arrived on HD DVD. The film's atmosphere is obvious to fans of the series, a moody presentation that will probably never earn a perfect mark due to the off nature some of the shots possess.
Detail is amazing, particularly in facial features that leap from their surface, though locations are certainly meticulously defined. Textures and shades in hair are as distinct as any release, while clothing has a nice air of clarity and sharpness. Contrast runs hot, which affects some colors, but the end result remains solid and dependable, rather than jumpy or inconsistent. Edges are natural, grain is intact, light as it is, and banding is nowhere to be found. The varying locales have their obvious distinct aesthetics, and such drastic differences (from the blown out skies and landscapes of Tangiers to the gritty and gloomy CIA offices) can wear after a few hundred leaps back and forth. There is a smidgen of noise, and a few tiny dirt blips to be found, as well as some light delineation problems. Soft shots aren't prevalent, but a few show up briefly. It's not perfect, but this transfer is mighty fine.
Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, HD DVD and Blu-ray. Sometimes, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The brand of lossless audio may have changed between releases, but the result certainly has not. 'The Bourne Ultimatum' sounds as good as it ever did, and considering it originally sounded like demo material, that's most certainly a good thing. Dialogue is always clear, and not restrained to front channels, as lines can find themselves moving through channels with ease. Best of all, the words aren't drowned out by the action or score, no matter how bombastic they get.
Bass levels are powerful, with a light presence that seems somewhat constant between moments of hefty action sequences, while the high end of the scale is screamingly perfect. Directionality is spot on, while movement is as natural as it gets. Rear ambience is adequate, far from overpowering, but at a level of involvement that fills the room and puts one in the environment with ease. This track is also enjoyable as it can create a sense of claustrophobia even in wide open exterior scenes. 'The Bourne Ultimatum' sounds every bit like a winner.
Portions of the extras have been retooled from previous 'Bourne Ultimatum' reviews by Peter Bracke.
'The Bourne Ultimatum' is certainly the most hyped film in the trilogy, and the hype isn't without substance. Regardless of which film one finds to be superior in the series, each is most certainly watchable, and almost as importantly, re-watchable. 'Ultimatum' is the most technically sound of the three, with shining audio and video qualities, and a fine helping of extras to boot. Flipper detractors may not enjoy Universal's new release strategy, but so far, the results are on their side, as this disc comes highly recommended.