There is a seamless, almost perfect bookend nature to the first three Jason Bourne films that so many trilogies mishandle. It tells a complete story, with a satisfying arc, and aesthetically ties itself up cleanly and with little or no “open doors” with which the franchise can continue. Now, this being Hollywood and all, there’s always a way, and they’ve proved it in the years following The Bourne Ultimatum, Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon’s incredible (and temporary) swan song.
Ultimatum‘s opening overlaps with the final moments of The Bourne Supremacy, with an injured Jason Bourne trying to fix himself before making his escape. After showing mercy with a pair of Russian police officers, it’s on to new business. The Treadstone McGuffin transforms into Blak Briar, and the plot thickens. Meanwhile, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is still trying to bring in Bourne, though her motivations may have pivoted. She is beginning to realize the depth of deception within the CIA, and she’s realizing Jason Bourne may not be the villain in this global scheme.
In what’s becoming tradition in the Bourne franchise, another middle-aged white actor is shuffled into the CIA bureaucrat role. It was Chris Cooper in the first film, Brian Cox center stage in the second. In the new one, it appears to be Tommy Lee Jones. Here, it’s the great (and greatly underused in general) David Strathairn, playing Noah Vosen, a devious . As the CIA works feverishly to bring down Bourne, Bourne is using his fragmented memories to piece together his former life as a programmed assassin.
The Bourne Ultimatum is, to this point, the best film in the franchise. It takes what worked in the previous film and expands on it, globalizing the action even more. This time, Bourne hops from continent to continent before ending up in Manhattan; the kinetic narrative is perfect. The CIA boardroom bickering is kept to a minimum here, where it too often distracted from the simple story at the heart of Supremacy. It also allows Jason Bourne to showcase his complete set of assassin tools. Damon is almost never stationary in the film, always walking and maneuvering and running and chasing.
Paul Greengrass also shows more confidence in his filmmaking here. He embraces the shaky cam aesthetic fully this time, even more than in Supremacy, and the story surrounding his jumpy visuals fit in concert with one another. It begins shot out of a cannon, as Bourne works feverishly to protect a journalist inside a train station, and it stops only momentarily to take a breath.
The end of The Bourne Ultimatum perfectly ties up loose ends, and the final shot – Jason Bourne floating in the sea – echoes the first glimpse of Bourne from the first film. It’s pitch perfect, and had the franchise ended here it would have been just fine. But, again, Hollywood always finds a way, and here they tried to branch off the story with a new male lead. The results were mixed.