Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Rank the Films: Bourne Series

As any regular reader of this blog will know, I think lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that charts the highs and lows through a series of films, ranking them in order from worst to best.

To celebrate the fifth Bourne film, Jason Bourne, hitting cinemas a few weeks back, I thought I'd reflect on the series as a whole. From 2002's revolutionary first chapter, The Bourne Identity, to the latest collaboration from director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon, I've gone ahead and ranked the five films (to date) from worst to best - question is, where does your favourite sit on my list?

Give it a read and let me know in the comments section down below!

5th - The Bourne Legacy (2012)

We all knew this would wind up last, right?

After Ultimatum, the Bourne series was at a loose end. Despite the critical and commercial success of Paul Greengrass' third entry, neither Matt Damon nor Greengrass were eager to return, preferring instead (at the time) to exit on a high. As a result, Universal were forced to steer the series in a new direction, choosing to hire screenwriter Tony Gilroy as director and Jeremy Renner (then best known as that dude from The Hurt Locker) as a new protagonist, Aaron Cross. The end result, pseudo-sequel The Bourne Legacy, was far from a success with both audiences and critics.

Legacy runs concurrently with Ultimatum, following the events and ensuing fallout of Jason Bourne's exposure of Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar. Shot in Pakistan, South Korea, Alaska and the Philippines, Legacy also boasts an impressive cast includes Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Oscar Isaac and Albert Finney. Unfortunately, this doesn't afford the film a sense of importance or necessity.

It's not a complete washout and I suspect that, had it not had the Bourne name attached, it'd be a much more enjoyable and worthwhile spy thriller. However, Renner doesn't make for a compelling lead whilst Rachel Weisz is about as uninteresting as romantic leads go. Instead, we're just left wondering where Jason Bourne is and where this new thread is heading. Legacy isn't totally awful, it's just mediocre, bland and forgettable by comparison.

4th - The Bourne Identity (2002)

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Supremacy and Ultimatum get all the plaudits, but I feel like Liman's original Bourne Identity is somewhat overlooked. It doesn't have the largest budget or the most polish, but damn, Liman does a fantastic job of setting up this world and making you care for these characters.

Identity immediately grabs you and places you there in the moment with this confused amnesiac looking to unravel the secrets of his recent past; it's a quieter, more character driven film that its successors, and that's probably its strongest aspect.

The first half is truly excellent, from moment Bourne washes up onshore to the exciting embassy shootout. The film slows down in the second act though; I'm not a huge fan of that sortie to the snowy French farmhouse where they meet up with Marie's bumbling ex-boyfriend. It feels like such a diversion, especially when the end result is...what exactly? For Bourne to dispatch another assassin on their tail? The conclusion comes good though; I really like the confrontation that Bourne shares with Conklin (Chris Cooper) at the Treadstone safe house as both actors really give it their all.

The clear highlight however is that scene where Jason and Marie outmaneuver the police through the streets of Paris in the tiny red Mini. It remains one of my favourite car chases of all time; the editing and camerawork is on point, not to mention the use of Paul Oakenfold's 'Ready, Steady, Go'. It's a sequence that bursts into life, amping up through a series of incredible choreography and stuntwork.

3rd - Jason Bourne (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

The most recent entry into the series has its detractors, but I'm definitely in the camp that enjoyed and appreciated Matt Damon's Bourne being back in action once again.

As I mentioned in my review, the film does bear a lot of similarities to its forebears, particularly Supremacy and Ultimatum. The plot is a collection of ideas that play out like a greatest his compilation of all things Bourne, for both better and worse. On the one hand, it's familiar and gets down to business. On the other, it doesn't strike out on its own or steer the series into newer territory.

Damon's performance is great (as always) and new additions in the form of Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Riz Ahmed all bring new things to the table. I really liked Vikander's ambitious analyst Heather, even if the film kind of fluffs her arc right at the end.

The action is what makes 2016's Jason Bourne standout - every set piece is meticulously crafted and choreographed. Greengrass and the whole stunt team really up their game in this entry; the opening motorbike chase through the streets of Athens sees the film start strong, but even grander sequences in London (that rooftop fall took my breath away!) and the huge Las Vegas finale make the film a sumptuous buffet for action junkies. RIP all those old, innocent cars that were trashed in that SWAT van stunt.

You can check out my full review of Jason Bourne here.

2nd - The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

The Bourne Supremacy takes everything that makes the first film such a slam-dunk and dials it up to 11. It's a noticeable improvement across the board, which is really saying something considering the impressive marker that Liman lay down.

Where Supremacy excels is in its pacing; it's frenetic stuff, barely pausing to breath from the moment Bourne is rumbled by Karl Urban's formidable hitman on a beach in India. Marie's sudden death is still shocking, especially when viewed directly after Identity as I recently did.

It's this revenge plot aspect that gives Supremacy an added layer of intensity; Marie's death drives Bourne back into the game, an aspect borrowed by Quantum of Solace a few years later, but in this instance it's executed much better. The addition of Joan Allen fleshes out the supporting cast too; opposite Brian Cox, her character is a tour de force that adds depth to both sides.

Greengrass' choppier camerawork can still be a little jarring at first, but it certainly suits the cat-and-mouse thing that these films are going for. Supremacy really took the series to another level, as well as directly inspiring a new breed of darker, grittier European spy thrillers like Casino Royale (2006) and the first Taken (2008).

The best moment comes right at the end; positioned on a rooftop opposite Pamela's office, Bourne remarks that she should "get some rest, you look tired". Cue the kickass Moby riff, cut back to Pam's shocked expression, Bourne strolls into a crowded New York street and straight to credits. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

1st - The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Okay, now we're splitting hairs here. Trying to separate Supremacy and Ultimatum is a foolish task; it's like trying to decide what is better, peanut butter or jam. Both are great on their own, but things reach a new plane of existence when they're together. As such, Supremacy and Ultimatum make for a fantastic back-to-back viewing, especially as they overlap and intertwine with one another.

That being said, I think that Ultimatum just pips Supremacy. At the end of the day, how can you top that whole Tangiers sequence? Or the opening salvo in Waterloo station? As action set pieces go, these are Greengrass' modus operandi and they're two of the most thrilling and accomplished we've seen in the last 10 years.

Speaking of high points, I can't not mention the final scene on the New York rooftop. Damon's acting here is brilliant; I particularly like his delivery on the line "look at what they make us give." In this moment you really feel the heartbreak behind Bourne's time in the CIA and how it has changed him. Then we get the moment where Nicky is watching the news and she hears that Bourne's body hasn't been found since he fell from the rooftop. Stiles flashes a cheeky grin, Moby kicks in once more and Bourne's silhouette on the water starts to swim away. Again, like Supremacy, the ending never fails to make you smile.

Which Bourne movie is your favourite? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.

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