In the new era of Ultra HD Blu-ray, the arrival of the now five-film Bourne franchise has us looking back on each film in the series. (Check out all of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Bourne reviews, including The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Legacy, and Jason Bourne). The second sequel in the spy thriller/action set was the presumptive end to the original trilogy (and thereby, the franchise and lead character), but now, with two very different stabs made at continuing the blockbuster series, The Bourne Ultimatum continues to serve as an important crescendo, both for the story and for the genre. Ultimatum has previously been reviewed by High-Def Digest, first on HD-DVD, and then twice on standard Blu-ray when it was still part of a trilogy.
The core Jason Bourne trilogy is certainly an anomaly, as one could make the case for each of the three films being superior to the others, not only in personal opinion, but in storytelling aspects and cinematic construct. Each film has a distinct attitude and theme, and each, in some way or another, is capable of standing apart as an individual film, not just another chapter in a tale that requires extensive background knowledge. A simple revisiting of the series gave me a newfound respect for what I felt was the most over-hyped and over-rated entry, The Bourne Ultimatum. The trilogy's final act certainly made the most at the box office, a testament to the growing legion of fans, and, while leaving the door open for more films, Ultimatum gave a satisfying conclusion to the tale of Jason Bourne, just in case the future was free from Matt Damon, super spy. (And after, The Bourne Legacy, it wasn't.)
The Bourne Ultimatum picks up right after the cataclysmic chase in Moscow found in The Bourne Supremacy. Bourne (Damon) has some clues about his past, but is still, for the most part, unaware of all the circumstances revolving around Treadstone and what truly happened to him. When a London-based reporter (Paddy Considine) begins a series of articles concerning the mystery around Bourne and delves too deeply into a U.S. operation known as Blackbriar, Bourne is again thrust into the spotlight of the shadowy side of the agency trying to silence their rogue amnesiac assassin. Led by CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), the task is more about killing anyone and everyone in their path, and letting someone below his rank sort it all out. Bourne is on the run again, through the Russia, the UK and USA (tying into the ending in Supremacy), Spain, France, and Morocco, digging up the past before it is gone forever, avoiding the attempts on his life by his former employers, and trying to put an end to the vicious circle that cost him more than just his memories.
What a difference a second go round made on this film. While I initially felt Ultimatum was all shaky hype with little heart, this repeat run opened my eyes to many more themes in the story that made it a fantastic climax for the series, the kind that would put sequels on a superfluous footing. Any film about amnesiacs will dwell in the past, just as previous Bourne films have, but what sets Ultimatum apart is the promise of a future, of sorts, finally the light at the end of the tunnel. If it took twenty films to get to the truth, audiences would more than likely be tired of the twists and turns along the road, but by delivering the goods, rather than constantly teasing and ret-conning the story, satisfaction is attained. (On the other hand, it's just hard to keep a force like the Bourne franchise down, both with and without Matt Damon in the lead.)
Damon is as solid as he was in any previous Bourne film, and any further explanation is beating a dead horse. He's believable in his own curiosity, and in his ass-kicking abilities. Joan Allen returns as Pam Landy in a back-burner role, but she doesn't steal the show or the viewer's eye as she did in Supremacy. Strathairn picks up where Cox and Cooper left off, providing a truly ominous, virtually unstoppable bulldog of a villain, and he does the part proud. It's nearly impossible to root for him and his actions. Albert Finney (Big Fish) gets a light cameo vital to the turning point in the film, but the big surprise comes from the least likely of places.
Julia Stiles. Her character, Nicky Parsons, was about as one-dimensional and under-utilized as any that appeared in the first two films, but with Marie (Franka Potente) out of the picture, she gets a bump into leading lady territory, and does a sparkling job (while the writing surrounding the character is as good as any). Her character arc cleverly pays homage to the role of Marie in Identity, from the streaks in her hair, to the bobbed dye-job she is given to conceal herself when her situation goes awry. You can almost see a character connection between Parsons and Bourne, but seemingly watch it all disappear due to Bourne's knowledge of what happens to anyone who associates with him, and what almost happened to his newfound ally. It's a compelling storytelling, to say the least.
The varying situations in each locale are also unique, as each individual country has its own theme and danger for Bourne. In the UK, the scenery is full of suspense and the basics of espionage, outmaneuvering human targets while hiding in plain sight. Russia is all about escape, while the United States is all redemption and truth. The kicker has to be Tangiers, Morocco. Seemingly directly channeling themes from the essential La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers), the African locale is the first Bourne setting to use modern themes of random terrorism. The chase is thrilling, and the set up even more exciting, it's just ideal, a perfect fit for the film.
While I was far more impressed with The Bourne Ultimatum the second time through, I still couldn't help but notice the flaws along the way. Every flashback is horribly aggravating, while the shaky cam gives off a slightly disorienting/nauseating feel. Characters undergo unexplained random changes, for the sake of the story, as well. Still, the acting is on par with the other films, the villain, while less calculating and methodical, is more vindictive and sinister, and the action (especially the car chases) are kicked up a notch, to the point that it would be hard to top them. Action fans rejoice for The Bourne Ultimatum, but those in search of a superior story should still head back to the original.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Universal brings The Bourne Identity to Ultra HD Blu-ray both as an individual release, and as a timed Best Exclusive, together in the Bourne The Ultimate Collection. The individual release comes as a two-disc combo with a flyer for the Digital HD version, which with Vudu, yielded the Vudu UHD version, complete with Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital Plus support. The Ultra HD Blu-ray disc is designated as a BD-66 and has Bourne disc art with a dark background, which is a little bit nicer than the blue and silver standard Blu-ray. (Not to mention nicer than a flipper disc.) The disc goes straight to the menu, and the menu features the same video loop as the Blu-ray but in full-frame and without the old familiar Universal menu design.
By the third Bourne film, the visual style for the films was well established. That continues here in Ultra HD and unfortunately, includes some soft images and grainy flashbacks. Several scenes and settings are lifted directly from the preceding film, and with them comes a pretty bleak image that opens up during the film's highlights. Tangiers is the most visually arresting, but even in the subdued NYC setting, there is plenty of detail to be found during one of the best action chases yet.
Some ten years on, and this is my favorite Bourne film. I have long considered it the best looking of the bunch, but it is a very different animal from Jason Bourne, which is a movie that makes counting wrinkles and fibers very easy. Nevertheless, this presentation is arresting. In Waterloo Main, the marquees of the shops have some real pop, and when Simon Ross disappears into a liquor store, the closing door allows the drink coolers to return to a state of inert, but colorful backdrop. In the subsequent hallway attack, the muted look returns, but with better contrast. The impact of the new format is less when staring down Paz' sight.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on The Bourne Ultimatum is still for me, demo material, and like Supremacy, the DTS:X mix is very complimentary. It builds on the highs. It starts with Moscow where radio calls fill the home theater along with the film's score. This very noticeable (for effect) audio panning can be found in the flashback scenes, where recalled statements come in and out of focus just like the JB memory fragments they are meant to be. In Ultimatum, even the CIA offices are abuzz with chatter, and the shifting billboard nest sounds mechanical. By Tangiers, my Marantz SR6011 was getting a full workout, and the chase in New York pushed it even further.
Like the preceding films, the DTS:X track is not the only option. There is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, a DTS Headphone:X track, and Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks.
The only supplement/bonus on the Ultra HD Blu-ray is the Paul Greengrass Audio Commentary.
Standard Blu-ray Supplements
Audio Commentary - Director Paul Greengrass flies solo here, and as he's proven on his past tracks (particularly 'United 93') he is an articulate and comprehensive narrator. Although he gets a bit bogged down at the beginning of the track with the technical, he quickly opens up the discussion to talk at surprising length about the intricacies of the story, both in comparison to the original novels as well what needed to be restructured in order to make 'Ultimatum' work as a self-contained film. Greengrass also doesn't shy away from some of the controversies that surrounded the shoot, particularly the endless reshoots (which star Matt Damon complained about at length to the press) and working in multiple foreign locations. A great track.
Featurette: "Man on the Move: Jason Bourne" (SD, 24 minutes) - This "on location" travelogue is an often breathless look at the fast-paced shoot, divided by location into five parts: Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid and Tangier. The mix of behind-the-scenes footage and on-set cast & crew interviews (with Greengrass, producer Frank Marshall, star Damon, as well as Joan Allen, Julia Stiles and Brian Cox) doesn't re-invent the wheel, but it's edited in such a deft and entertaining manner that it's superior to most EPKs.
Additional Featurettes (SD, 25 minutes) - These four vignettes further pick apart the film's most exciting action sequences: "New York Chase" (11 minutes), "Planning the Punches" (5 minutes), "Driving School" (3 minutes) and "Rooftop Pursuit" (6 minutes). This is culled from the same batch of making-of material as the main featurette but is again expertly edited, especially "Planning the Punches," which somehow manages to make the staging of a scene with a zillion cuts actually comprehensible.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 minutes) - This assemblage of scenes is comprised mostly of extensions, with the majority of new material adding to the scenes at the CIA, as well as a bit more with Damon's character's memories regarding his eventual metamorphosis into Jason Bourne. Though formatted for 16:9 screens, the scenes appear to be upconverts from standard-def.
Interactive Game: "Be Bourne Spy Training Game" - Activate the game as you watch the film itself, and as you progress through the narrative you'll be prompted to analyze pre-marked 30-second segments. Once the clip is done, you'll be tested on the visual and narrative information you retain. This is kinda fun, although I got a bit tired after a few clips due to the repetition of the exercise. Note that you will receive a score at the end of the game, and you can go online (assuming your player is web-connected) and share your results with others.
No doubt, Jason Bourne originally went out on a high note with The Bourne Ultimatum, and I still like this movie enough to consider it one of the best catalogue releases to make it on to Ultra HD Blu-ray. The HDR10 presentation is lively at times, but the DTS:X track is a bigger draw. Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.