In 2002 Matt Damon became an unexpected hero as Jason Bourne in the film version of Robert Ludlum’s bestselling novel, The Bourne Identity. At the time it was a breakthrough role for Matt Damon who was cast against type as a trained assassin attempting to recover his memory while evading shadowy figures from his lost past. Doug Liman, of Go and Swingers fame, directed what was one of the edgier espionage thrillers to hit the big screen for some time. Naturally, success breeds franchise and we now have the further adventures of Jason Bourne in the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy.

British director Paul Greengrass, whose previous project was Bloody Sunday, got the job of bringing to life The Bourne Supremacy, second in the Ludlum series of spy thrillers featuring Jason Bourne. The novel, published in 1986, was also popular and spent 25 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. So Jason Bourne, amnesiac assassin, lives again, this time on a samurai-type journey of redemption.

The Cold War was the ever-present backdrop to Ludlum’s stories and the Russians and CIA remain key elements in the new film too. Greengrass takes Jason Bourne on a journey from India to Moscow via Naples and Berlin. Central to the first film was the relationship between Bourne and his girlfriend Marie, played by German actor Franka Potente (Run Lola Run). This relationship kept Bourne from being a soul-less killing machine and it also added a dimensionality to what is essentially a cat-and-mouse chase film.

This time round the focus shifts away from intimacy and relies on action and every type of transport imaginable to create elaborate sequences from which Bourne must escape to prove his innocence and achieve redemption. This lack of intimacy does weaken the film substantially but, that said, Greengrass has peopled the film with a strong and interesting support cast. Joan Allen plays the government spook; Brian Cox, the original Hannibal Lecter, returns as the CIA man with too much to lose; and Julia Stiles (The Prince and Me) reappears as the junior agent. Two Kiwi actors from the Lord Of The Rings instalments, Marton Csokas and Karl Urban, are cast as evil Russians.

The Bourne Supremacy is pure popcorn with all the excitement you would expect from a fairly conventional spy-thriller movie. It is well supported by a strong score and hand-held camera work which adds dizzying immediacy to the cinematography. Somehow though, it’s just not as intelligent or as creative as the original. Still, the car chase cum-smash’em-up derby has to be seen to be believed and is also a testament to the durability of Russian taxis.

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