When we last left the world’s deadliest assassin, Jason Bourne, he had given his old masters explicit instructions to leave him alone or else they would face the consequences. It’s the kind of warning that in the world of cinema provides carte blanche for all kinds of sequels. So, with the smash success of the Bourne Identity in the books, the question then becomes not whether there is still enough story in this world and its characters to merit additional chapters but whether those new installments can match the tone, pace and fervor of their predecessor. The Bourne Supremacy answers those questions with an enthusiastic affirmative, but it does more than that: it takes our hero’s quest for answers into deeper labyrinths and uncharted moral territory that isn’t just unfamiliar to Jason Bourne, but to fans of the spy thriller genre in general.
The story picks up two years after the Bourne Identity left off. Amnesiac CIA assassin Jason Bourne has successfully gotten away clean and is living with his girlfriend Marie Kreutz in Goa, India. Bourne hides in plain sight, confident that his old bosses will leave him alone, but sufficiently plagued by half-memories to know that he cannot hide from his past forever…or escape it entirely. Soon his old world crashes back down on him when a CIA mission to retrieve documents regarding a theft of $20 million sets off a twisting chain of crosses and double-crosses. It begins with a rogue Russian secret agent framing Bourne for the murder of two CIA agents, and then botching an attempt to kill Bourne himself. Marie catches the bullet meant for Bourne, and in record time, Bourne is off to fulfill the promise he made to the world: mess with me, and suffer the consequences. And Jason Bourne is not one to break a promise.
What follows is a breathless descent into the darker corners of Bourne’s history as a killer as we see him shift gears from an asset on the run to a guy pursuing a revenge trip he never wanted to make. It puts the Bourne Supremacy into interesting territory, especially when seen as the second of a three-part arc. Traditionally, this is where heroes are at their lowest ebb, and for much of this, Bourne is himself on the offensive and more unstoppable than ever. Director Paul Greengrass amps up the shaky immediacy of the franchise’s documentary-style presentation, somehow improving on action sequences that didn’t seem to have had much room for improvement. Meanwhile, Bourne himself becomes an even higher form of apex predator. He allows himself to be captured by the CIA because he knows he can escape, and that’s the only way he can get some information he is after. He engages in a breakneck car chase in Moscow that makes his previous jaunts in that Mini Cooper look like a run to the grocer’s. And his completes his table-turning with a chilling epilogue in which he stalks the CIA itself, letting the people whose job is to watch others know that they are the ones being watched, for once. The balls on this guy.
And yet, Bourne is at his lowest internally. He knows that Marie wouldn’t have died had he not met her. He knows that he still does not understand his own grim history. And he must contend with a layer cake of villainy and opposition around him that is considerably deeper and more complex than before. As he fights against Russian oligarchs, a legitimate wing of the CIA that thinks he’s guilty for a crime he didn’t commit, and a corrupt wing of the CIA trying to set him up, Bourne’s certainty that he can trust no one is further confirmed with every footstep he takes. Some folks might not be as evil as others. Some folks might be good guys who don’t know any better than to not go after Bourne. But everyone is, in fact, out to get him. And when the entire world is your battleground, what peace can there ever really be? Bourne knows he got as close to the good life as he will ever get. When that assassin’s bullet took out Marie, and when he knew that his old life could reach out and touch him with relative ease, any illusions he had of a life beyond murder, hiding, and deception evaporated. The Bourne Supremacy might deliver on the action, but more importantly, it deepens Bourne’s challenges as a hero whose murky past isn’t just a convenient cover to justify his bloodshed. It’s a true handicap.
We see this in the moment of truth at the end of the movie’s third act. He has just dealt with his Russian nemesis Kirill and in a welcome turn, spares him. He doesn’t make a big deal about it; he just walks away because he’s got much more important matters to attend to. When he realizes his role in a despicable murder job from years before, Bourne cannot let it lie. He must seek out those who have suffered most for his deeds, and he must tell them who he is and what he did. Wounded and exhausted, Bourne makes his way to the apartment of his victims’ daughter, now a young woman, and he apologizes for killing her parents and smearing their name. He knows that acting on orders is no excuse, nor does he expect forgiveness. But that young woman deserves a life no longer defined entirely by the mystery of its central tragedy. There is no easy resolution to any of it, but that the story stopped to consider how spy games leave innocent casualties in their wake adds considerable heft to Bourne’s angst. Bourne’s skills may be supreme. But so is the weight of his conscience. He doesn’t just have a quest to uncover his own past. He has an obligation to vindicate that there ever was one. Another sequel? Yes, please.