Giving new resonance to why the first in a franchise is often dubbed the original, Paul Greengrass’s The Bourne Supremacy is so oppressively identified with its predecessor’s look, sound, and design that The Bourne Identity director Doug Liman warrants a co-director credit. Greengrass, who shot to the forefront of new UK cinema with his tragic action picture Bloody Sunday, is emphatic about replicating all the first movie’s zestful technical accoutrements—Oliver Wood’s serrated camerawork and John Powell’s kinky score are indistinguishable from their first incarnations. (Moby’s “Extreme Ways” is even lazily reused for the closing credits.) But the ever-glum Greengrass is not canny enough to renew Liman’s indie idiosyncrasy as his own. Fact is, Identity was not Universal’s top DVD moneymaker of 2003 because of its car chases—audiences, even if they couldn’t articulate it, responded to Liman’s subtle genre disobedience, his liveliness within the staidness of spy pulp, and his limber sense of romanticism. His practice of doodling in the margins—to borrow a phrase from Joe Dante—actually compensated for the movie’s lack of psychological depth, as little hidden bits of minutiae allowed us to absorb the eye-darting curiosity of our unreliable protagonist.
In Supremacy, C.I.A. realpolitik is again the textual backbone of the Robert Ludlum adaptation. Greengrass and returning screenwriter Tony Gilroy start the episode off in India, where Franka Potente’s Marie, shacked up with Matt Damon’s Bourne at an off-the-grid oceanfront bungalow, is dispatched so quickly that revealing said info can hardly count as a spoiler. Her elimination sets the stage for Greengrass’s characteristically sullen trajectory, in which the glowering Bourne, experiencing love lost for the first time in his natural memory, confronts his own guilty conscious. Although extraneous dilemmas are generated in order to accelerate the action—which Greengrass presents, a la Bloody Sunday, with flailing pans and chop-suey edits just this side of clumsy—Bourne’s central conflict is with himself. While superficially a bold stroke, this sucks the air out of the film, leaving it chilly and without dimensionality. Please don’t look to Supremacy for humor—well, except for when King of the Hambones Brian Cox sniffs to Queen of the Pants Suits Joan Allen (one as thankless as the other), “You’re in a big puddle of shit, Pam, and you don’t have the shoes for it.”
Don’t look for sensuality either. Liman, like David Lynch with Mulholland Drive, illustriously telegraphed the moment when an amnesiac’s rediscovers his/her libido, and the wordless, remarkable love scene in Identity was Liman’s signature gesture—delicate, erotic, and sublime. Damon succeeds again by rejecting all movie-star posturing and retaining Bourne’s inherent pain, but the character becomes less interesting the more he holds the screen alone. Becoming something of a preprogrammed machine himself, Greengrass would have been better suited directing a Bourne prequel.