Retrospective: The BOURNE Movies | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 25 July 2016

Retrospective: The BOURNE Movies

Retrospective: The BOURNE Movies

Nine years after THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM initially ended the lucrative franchise with a bang and four years after Universal tried to capitalise the series' popularity with an ill-advised spin-off in THE BOURNE LEGACY, it's finally nice to see Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass returning to the world of BOURNE movies. With the highly-anticipated JASON BOURNE arriving this week, here are the recaps for the previous four BOURNE movies.


THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)

THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)
Long before the amnesiac superspy of the late Robert Ludlum's famous literary creation of Jason Bourne becomes among the Hollywood's most popular fictional characters in the espionage genre, the relevant cinematic competitors often reserved to either James Bond in the 007 series or Ethan Hunt in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series.

It's all started in June 2002, where THE BOURNE IDENTITY debuted at the height of the summer movie season sandwiched between two big-budget newcomers including SCOOBY-DOO and John Woo's WWII drama of WINDTALKERS. Although THE BOURNE IDENTITY opened at No. 2 with US$27.1 million, the movie managed to hold up long enough within the domestic box-office chart. By the time the movie ended its theatrical run in November, THE BOURNE IDENTITY made a cool US$121.6 million and an additional US$92 million in the international box office. With a combined worldwide gross of US$214 million, it was nevertheless a great start for a movie that cost US$60 million to make.

But back then, nobody could have thought THE BOURNE IDENTITY would wind up as a huge moneymaker. After all, the spy movie was considered a risky choice with all the unlikely talents involved. Doug Liman was primarily known as an independent filmmaker who made small-scale comedies like SWINGERS (1996) and GO (1999). With THE BOURNE IDENTITY, this marked his then-biggest directorial effort ever handled. And then there was Matt Damon. Before he became famous as Jason Bourne, Damon's past acting resume is pretty diverse. He shows good acting range from various genre movies such as COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996), GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999) and OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001). However, it still hard to imagine Matt Damon playing a spy or an action hero in general who requires heavy physical demand in terms of hand-to-hand combat and utilising weapon skill. Interestingly enough, Damon wasn't the immediate choice to play the titular character as other actors such as Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone were considered at some point.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY was also famously plagued with troubled production history. Some of the problems faced during the production such as creative arguments between the director and the studio (Universal) and several rewritten scenes. And believe it or not, the studio heads were more interested in making a tried-and-tested spy movie than the one we know today. But thanks to Matt Damon and Doug Liman for insisting on subverting the formulaic spy genre, THE BOURNE IDENTITY wouldn't have been that recognisable.

So, what makes THE BOURNE IDENTITY such a surprise back then? First of all, it was the way Doug Liman, as well as the screenwriting team of Tony Gilroy and William Black Herron, approached the espionage genre in a refreshing point-of-view. Instead of a typical spy formula involving world domination and whatnot, the movie chooses to explore deep into Bourne's amnesiac mind as he tries to uncover the truth behind his own identity. Of course, the plot wouldn't have worked if it's not for Matt Damon's engaging performance as the titular character. Not only he shows tremendous commitment to his acting range, but also excels in demonstrating martial art skill in such convincing manner. The movie is also blessed with strong supports from Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles and Clive Owen.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY is also technically proficient, with several well-choreographed fight scenes and a rousing centrepiece involving the Paris-set Mini Cooper car chase scored to Paul Oakenfold's "Ready Steady Go".

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004)

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004)
Two years after the global success of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, the amnesiac superspy returns for the second time round in THE BOURNE SUPREMACY. Armed with a bigger budget (US$75 million), the second BOURNE movie managed to surpass expectation by grossing a huge US$52.5 million over the course of the 3-day opening weekend in the U.S. box office. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY held up well enough and ended up making more money than the first movie with a total worldwide gross of US$288.5 million.

In the second BOURNE movie, the overall storyline is basically more of the same but only in different situations. Although repeating the same formula in a high-profile sequel often ended up less favourable, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is one of the big budget Hollywood movies where "more-of-the-same" approach still packs a cinematic punch. This is of course, largely thanks to Paul Greengrass' bold decision to revitalise the BOURNE movie with a semi-documentary approach. With original BOURNE director Doug Liman bowed out of the sequel due to creative differences, Paul Greengrass eschews the traditional filmmaking method by shooting the movie with a handheld camera. While the shaky-cam technique tends to induce motion sickness, Greengrass' choice of camerawork works good enough to create a sense of you-are-there urgency that reminiscent of Bourne's relentless pursuit for uncovering the truth.

The returning cast including Matt Damon, Brian Cox and Julia Stiles deliver strong performances as usual. A newcomer to the series, Joan Allen, gives a top-notch performance as the deputy CIA director Pamela Landy.

Like the first movie, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is a technical triumph in the action department. The highlight for the sequel is of course, none other than the climactic taxi chase through the streets of Moscow. No doubt that Greengrass' handheld approach successfully made the chase scene as one of the best action set-pieces ever seen in the recent memory.


THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)
Two words: déjà vu. Like THE BOURNE SUPREMACY two years prior, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY offers more-of-the-same espionage formula that deals with Bourne's continuing pursuit in uncovering the truth. But interestingly enough, the formula still works like a charm. In fact, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM was the series' biggest moneymaker that successfully opened a sky-high US$69.2 million during the first week of August 2007. Not to mention the third BOURNE movie ended up grossing a worldwide box-office total of US$442.8 million.

As evident in THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, returning director Paul Greengrass continues his trademark shaky-cam approach for creating a quasi-documentary spy movie. While there are few handheld camerawork tend to be too jittery, Greengrass alongside his cinematographer Oliver Wood and second-unit director Dan Bradley still manage to stage some of the series' best action set-pieces ever made. That includes the spectacular Tangier-set chase scene which begins with a motorcycle pursuit and ends with a brutal hand-to-hand combat between Bourne and one of the killers, Desh (Joey Ansah) in a tiny apartment. Then, towards the climactic finale, there is the breathtaking car chase scene through the busy streets of New York city.

Once again, the recurring cast ranging from Matt Damon to Joan Allen is top-notch. As for the newcomers to the series, three veteran actors featured in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, including David Strathairn as the CIA heads of operation Noah Vosen, Scott Glenn as the CIA director Ezra Kramer and Albert Finney as the man-behind-the-curtain Dr Albert Hirsch, are all given solid supports.


THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)

THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)
Here's the biggest question: What are they (the studio) thinking? THE BOURNE LEGACY is one of the prime examples that no amount of a movie franchise's popularity would matter if the original star is not attached. Following back-to-back successful collaboration between Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass in THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, it's natural to expect the studio is hungry for more. After all, the BOURNE movies are one of Universal's most lucrative franchises in the recent memory.

With Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass decided not to come back for more BOURNE movie, the studio made a bold decision by introducing a spin-off in the form of Aaron Cross. Played by Jeremy Renner, who already fast becoming one of the most sought-after Hollywood actors following his acclaimed performances in 2009's THE HURT LOCKER, 2010's THE TOWN, 2011's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL and 2012's THE AVENGERS, he does deliver a remarkably tense performance that stands on his own. Like Matt Damon, Renner shows amazing physical skill during the action scenes. Whether he is seen disposing his enemies with fistfights and weapon techniques or riding a motorcycle, Renner proves to be a worthy new character in THE BOURNE LEGACY. And speaking about the motorcycle, THE BOURNE LEGACY is best known for its tense motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Manila.

So, what went wrong with THE BOURNE LEGACY? Despite enlisting the "narrative architect" from the previous three BOURNE movies, director Tony Gilroy made a mistake by relying too much on exposition-heavy dialogue throughout the movie. The pace lacks the same cinematic urgency that the previous three BOURNE movies did successfully. THE BOURNE LEGACY is also too talky and significantly low on actions that it's quite surprising to see this one cost US$125 million to make.

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