Adapted from the first of Robert Ludlum’s Cold War novels, The Bourne Identity was arguably the most influential action film of the 2000s. Its ferocious action, gritty tone and Matt Damon’s surprise turn as an action star made it a considerable success, both critically and commercially. Released in the same year as the CGI-laden debacle that was Die Another Day, which ended Pierce Brosnan’s otherwise impressive spell as James Bond, Identity changed the action genre and forced 007 into a reboot.
Despite the success of the first film, Matt Damon was reportedly reluctant to return for a sequel and the franchise’s producers were not keen on working again with Identity’s director Doug Liman. Thankfully, Paul Greengrass, who had just made the superb Troubles drama Bloody Sunday, was recruited as director and Tony Gilroy’s revenge-orientated screenplay coaxed Damon back into the role.
While Liman was important to the first film’s triumph, Greengrass’ shaky-cam and kinetic direction, which is now synonymous with the series, gave Supremacy the edge over its predecessor. The film has an added urgency and its action scenes are some of the best in modern cinema, with a foot chase in Berlin, the Moscow car chase and the now notorious magazine fight being the highlights. Second unit director Dan Bradley is integral to the success of these dynamic set-pieces, which are amplified, rather than hampered, by being firmly grounded in reality.
The cast is also superb. Matt Damon develops the depth of the character and performs the many stunts with aplomb, while Brian Cox is on great form again as shady CIA suit Ward Abbott. Joan Allen and Karl Urban are excellent additions to the cast as Task Officer Pamela Landy and CIA assassin Krill respectively.
However, what truly sets Supremacy apart from Liman’s original is how it handles the mystery of the conspiracy surrounding both the CIA and Bourne as a character. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay provides satisfying and unexpected answers to questions posed in Identity, but leaves many crucial avenues open for the third instalment – making a binge watch of the entire trilogy very enjoyable.
Formidable action, an efficient story and Greengrass’ direction make The Bourne Supremacy the best film in the series and one of the greatest action films of all time.