The constant retconning on the Bourne movies is really something to behold. The first sequel didn’t do anything too outrageous — it just added some flashbacks to an earlier point in “Jason Bourne’s” career — but it ended with an epilogue in which Bourne, an amnesiac, learns his real name. So the second sequel had to get a wee bit more inventive, if it was to keep this amnesiac-on-the-run storyline going; instead of picking up where the first sequel left off, the bulk of the second sequel actually takes place before the epilogue to the first sequel. And then, by the end of that second sequel, Bourne’s real name had been shared not only with Bourne himself but with the world at large. The amnesiac-on-the-run premise had been exhausted. The franchise simply had nowhere to go from there.
In this high-tech digital age, the makers of high-profile action movies sometimes like to brag about how they used real cars and real stunts — even when some of the defining images in their films couldn’t possibly exist without pixels on a screen. (Yes, Live Free or Die Hard, I’m pointing at you and that spinning airborne car that just happens to miss our hero by a hair.) But every now and then, along comes a film that really seems to have happened in front of the cameras — and The Bourne Ultimatum is just such a film.
Few themes in the Bible are as persistent as the call to remember: whether it is God commanding the Israelites never to forget how he brought them out of Egypt, or Jesus telling his followers to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him, or the thief on the cross asking Christ to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, the role that memory plays in shaping our identities and in binding us to each other and to God is integral to the faith.
Memory has also become an increasingly prominent theme at the movies, going back a few years to Memento, an ingenious film noir about a man who has been unable to create new memories ever since he was knocked head-first into a mirror while trying to protect his now-dead wife from a rapist who broke into their house. Despite his condition, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is determined to hunt the murderer down and kill him, so he surrounds himself with notes and Polaroid photos, and he tattoos the most important clues to his very skin. These notes, he says, are more objective, more true, than mere recollection, which can be unreliable.
If we forget The Chronicles of Riddick — and odds are you had until I mentioned it just now — this is turning out to be a good summer for sequels, from big-budget blockbusters like Spider-Man 2 to small art-house films like Before Sunset. Somewhere between the sensibilities of those two flicks lies The Bourne Supremacy, an intelligent, action-packed thrill ride which also has the documentary-like feel of a European travelogue. Unlike, say, the James Bond films, which are loaded with product placements and pyrotechnics, and which gravitate toward famous tourist attractions like the Millennium Dome and the Eiffel Tower, the Jason Bourne movies are filmed in a more naturalistic style, and are grounded in more mundane yet familiar locations: train stations, hotels, and housing projects that are believable precisely because they don’t seem to have been dressed up for a movie.