"You know, I used to think Matt Damon was kinda like a Streisand, but he's rocking the shit in this one." David, The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Matt Damon is fast proving himself one of the most versatile actors around; showing off his chops with Leo and Big Jack in The Departed, bringing the funny in the Ocean's series and, as Paul Rudd so succinctly puts it, rocking the shit in the action-packed Bourne series. The grinning berk from the Vanity Fair cover is no more; Damon is now a fully-fledged action hero, those boyish cheekbones filled out with a little more gristle. Bourne's stripped-down, hyper-real style - kick-started by Doug Liman, perfected by Paul Greengrass - revitalised the spy genre, forcing the rest of the pack to raise their game: even the unflappable James Bond was forced to follow suit and go back to basics. Now, three movies down the line, we have The Bourne Ultimatum and a poster so badass, you half expect Damon to pop out of the one-sheet and kick your ass.
Where Identity saw Bourne recover a semblance of who he was and Supremacy saw him pop out from under the rock he was hiding to clear his name, Ultimatum sees Bourne turn the tables on the government assholes who wiped his memory. The movie starts at a breakneck pace: Bourne is called out by Guardian reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), who may or may not know something about the sinister agency that transformed him into a lethal killing machine. One breathless sequence at Waterloo station later, and Bourne is jetting across the globe faster as fast as the on-screen vidi-printer can report it, skipping through Madrid, Morocco and New York in pursuit of whomever has the information he requires. Essentially, Ultimatum is one giant chase movie; Bourne is forever one step ahead of government agents Noah Vosen (Strathairn) and Pam Landy (Allen) but always ensures there's plenty of carnage when he's in town.
The film moves at such speed, Greengrass and his shaky-cam almost struggle to keep up with it. As before, the action set-pieces here are small-scale and gritty, Bourne living up to his status of a weapon in human form. The fight scenes are bone-crunchingly brutal, Bourne's fists cracking skulls like it's second nature. One ruck in a bathroom is like the Morpheus Vs Smith fight from The Matrix minus the theatrics, both participants flinging themselves across furniture and trading blows at a phenomenal speed; when the dust settles, only then will you realise you've not been up for air for minutes. The series' trademark car chases are similarly low-tech, all twisted metal, broken glass and mangled bodywork, shot at a terrifying velocity. He might survive a few car crashes too many, but at no time does Bourne have to drive a car into a helicopter or fight a Harrier jet with his bare hands: Ultimatum preaches cold, hard, no-nonsense realism and delivers its payload like a sucker punch to the back of the head.
Greengrass is masterful in his direction, deftly weaving through busy city streets and up bustling highways, tracking Bourne as he darts from mark to mark at impossible speeds. His visceral style may put off some, but the loose, freeform camera work means Bourne is impossible to pin down and the editing, frantic though it may be, is perfectly in keeping with the series' energetic style. The rooftop chase through Tangier is simply awesome, Bourne leaping from building to building through windows (a lot more exciting than it sounds) with the director's watchful eye never far behind. Even over at the CIA, where there's plenty of keyboard tapping and shouting at monitors, Greengrass still manages to convey the situation's urgency, with Vosen barking orders in almost impenetrable agency jargon a la the control rooms of United 93. The movie pulses with action at every beat, fuelled by pure bloody venom and fire, but Greengrass always remains in total control.
Damon is the real draw here; stone-faced and seething, he's a powderkeg waiting to explode. In truth, Bourne is not a character with much emotional depth - he's driven and focused to the point of being suicidal yet isn't one for outbursts or gags - but Damon nails the quiet intensity that's required of him. It's a shame, then, that Julia Stiles turncoat agent has him going all gooey - she's a character with almost no function whatsoever and Stiles does little to warrant her appearance in all three movies, wearing the same gormless expression throughout the entire trilogy. Jason Bourne has no time for ladies. Jason Bourne is all man. Woof.
Of all the summer's threequels, The Bourne Ultimatum is the most vital by far. Pulsating with energy from start to finish, Greengrass doesn't take his foot off the accelerator, playing chicken with his audience, daring them to flinch first and get the hell out of his way. The result is a thriller with few equals - rarely do action movies feel so rounded and complete, or boast central characters as diverse and compelling. Compared to the sugar-coated excesses of Transformers
and the pantomime bombast of Die Hard 4.0
, The Bourne Ultimatum feels like an action movie distilled to its purest form - sleek, deadly and faster than lightning. Let it rock the shit out of you.