Updating the American paranoia films of the 70s with top drawer action and globe-trotting cat-and-mouse suspense, all encapsulated in crystal clear Blu-ray technology, the Bourne series has to be the complete trilogy of its genre. Owing greatly to pre-Hollywood Hitchcock and American classics such as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor and Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible, Bourne does them all as we witness the Black Ops assassin's breakneck journey for self-preservation, pursuit of his betrayers and quest for self-discovery and redemption.
In Identity the journey we share with Bourne, from isolated amnesiac to multi-lingual fully realised killer, contains action, suspense and guile by the truckload. It has finger-snapping fights and a car chase borrowing from (take your pick) but easily matching The Italian Job, French Connection, Ronin and the best of Bond. But Bourne isn't just about modern action-film gimmickry; here is a character with talent, intelligence, vulnerability and oh so hidden depths. The film has it all: tension, menace, ominous European towns, snowscapes, back-story laden characters and friendly fishermen.
Supremacy has arguably the most contrived premise of the trilogy but more than makes up for this with its similar mix to Identity of action, treachery and intrigue. The film is given depth by the multi-faceted support characters and its reprising of the wintry European towns that have pretty much become a character of their own. The claustrophobia from the first film is maintained with much of the action and stealth set in an icy cold Germany and Russia. Here Bourne, again the pursuer and evader, with his memory returning in patches, is even more the man of solemnity, violence and atonement no better exemplified in a truly captivating final 20 minutes.
Finally, Ultimatum tells both its own story whilst smartly interweaving all three as it cleverly overlaps with the timeline from Supremacy. Bourne is again both the pursuer and the pursued (never so much as a hat for a disguise!) and if in the last film he sought penitence, in this he's out for retribution. Again the action, fight sequences and tension are stunning as is Bourne's continuing nerve-shredding ability to outwit his surveillance-heavy trackers. And the section in Waterloo Station has to be one of the all time standout sequences of its kind, with its stunning blend of suspense, action and sheer cunning. This third film which nicely book-ends the first with practically the same scene, is so good I'm praying they don't do another.
My niggles are few but in the interests of balance I know I'm not the first to point out that its superb action is sometimes a little marred with the excessive camera-judder favoured by director Paul Greengrass. And on a macro level I'd concede that Bourne's ability to consistently outsmart his enemies of seemingly limitless resources, with pretty much just his wits and a mobile phone, is a perhaps a little dubious.
For my money Ultimatum just tops Identity but really there's only half a star separating all three. But as good as these films are the final word has to go to Matt Damon who, notwithstanding his heavy-weight supporting cast, gives a masterful performance in under-acting; he is a vulnerable lost soul in a foreign land and he is the deadly weapon in full command of his environment. In the hands of a lesser actor these would still be great films, in the hands of a professional like Damon, they're outstanding.