If the genre is to believed, there is no retiring from the spy business. As The Bourne Supremacy (2004) begins, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente) are living a peaceful, off-the-grid life in India. But soon enough Bourne is drawn back into his dark past, when a Russian oil baron uses Bourne’s history as a rogue assassin to set him up as a convenient patsy for the murder of two CIA agents. Enter Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who takes the bait in thinking that Bourne is responsible and aims to take him down. Service politics thrust her together with Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), a veteran of the Treadstone Project that ran Bourne, and together (sort of) they set out to find and neutralize him. But are they running the mission, or is Bourne?
In some ways, surprisingly, this sequel is more satisfying than The Bourne Identity, although I suppose that depends on your depth of interest in its genre trappings. It has a more intricate and involving plot, for one thing, and Bourne’s resourceful, on-the-fly tradecraft is more clever and interesting. I also enjoyed the twists and turns of the Agency internal politics, with Allen, Cox, Julie Stiles, and others contributing to the story’s complexity. Plus, the franchise continues to provide early roles for notable future stars: keep an eye out for Michelle Monaghan and Karl Urban.
There are other ways, though, where The Bourne Supremacy falls short. It’s a colder film; there’s not much character or heart, here. Damon is all business, which is good for his spy chops, but bad for his emotional depth and audience connection. I also preferred Doug Liman’s direction in the first film to Paul Greengrass’ in this one. The action sequences are full of dizzying shaky-cam tactics that render them incoherent at times, and most of them overstay their welcome. In the end, it’s a mixed bag that justifies its inclusion, perhaps, for how it fleshes out the first film and improves on some of its elements.