Universal // 2007 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 22nd, 2007
Remember everything. Forgive nothing.
The final installment of the blockbuster espionage trilogy hits the high-def highway running. How does this Ultimatum stack up against the other releases of Universal's flagship action series?
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, Ocean's 13) isn't out of the woods yet. Having spent the previous two movies fighting through amnesia to regain his identity and eluding a cadre of relentlessly pursuing black ops super-agents dispatched from a clandestine wing of the CIA, Bourne finds himself once again neck-deep in homicidal spies thanks to Operation Black Briar, a clandestine ops with a ruthless bureaucrat at the helm (David Strathairn).
Bourne's allies are few: former Treadstone handler Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) and morally confused CIA honcho Pamela Landy (Joan Allen). But there's one thing he's got that no one can contend with -- the ability to drive cars at insane speeds and crash into things without rupturing the head gasket.
It's been a great ride, but this is where I get off. Long an admirer of the big-screen exploits of Jason Bourne, one of my all-time favorite literary action heroes, I've officially disembarked from the love affair with this final installment.
In the past, I readily forgave the profound difference between the Bourne features and Robert Ludlum's iconic source novels, feeling that the both Identity and Supremacy at least maintained the spirit of the books. That is, Bourne is an unstoppable machine and can easily navigate his way out of danger using wits and superior fighting and driving skills and will readily use his lethal skills against the bad guys. But Paul Greengrass and the writers of the Ultimatum are so fixated on the tired recycling of the "sinister U.S. government branch that can't take the hint and continues to hunt down Bourne" plot angle, that when the thread once again resurfaced in this capper to the trilogy I was sick and damn tired of it.
We get it Hollywood. Bourne is a post-modern action hero and there are no bad guys to fight except for the CIA, who, for some reason, now get their kicks out of executing innocent civilians in public places and trying to vaporize their own operatives with backpack bombs. It's all about the f -- -- -- nuance in this movie, and while it's nothing that's new in the series, I was hoping we could finally move past this heavily-flogged theme. And aside from the politics and philosophy of action movies (which I'm sure are leagues away from Greengrass's and Damon's, the former who said, "The Bourne franchise is not about wearing Prada suits and looking at women coming out of the sea with bikinis on. It's about essence and truth, not frippery and surface," and the latter quoted as saying, "Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it, and drinks Martinis and cracks jokes"; Good Lord, that pretentiousness is so thick you could cut it with Joan Allen's elbows) there's the simple, reality-smashing fact that the CIA is such an ass-backwards bureaucratic nightmare there's no way they could possibly institute such a coldly efficient assassination squad.
Ugh. With Ultimatum, the filmmakers have officially taken a colossal dump on the Ludlum novels, and while I was quicker to forgive them for the massive deviations in plot and character and context for the two previous films, I'm done now.
And even if the main character was named "Todd Gerkins," and there was nothing remotely similar to the Ludlum novels, I'd still be cold to this film, thanks to the redundant themes and plot points and the credibility-harpooning inanity of the CIA angle. Has anybody even bothered paying attention to the newspapers over the years? As much as Hollywood wants to believe Langley is a juggernaut of darkness and duplicity I think it's been made quite obvious they rival the 2007 Miami Dolphins for sheer incompetence.
Looking at the technical merits of the release, the HD DVD is absolutely the way to see this movie. The picture quality is world-class, thanks to a beautiful 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that renders Bourne's world with stunning clarity. The sweeping shots of the various locales Bourne runs around in are magnificent in their detail, and the attention to sharpness holds fast during the kinetic action sequences. This is a great looking treatment. Boasting both TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mixes, Ultimatum's aggressive sound matches the robustness of the picture. The awesome John Powell score thunders throughout and when the mayhem goes down, it's an aural treat.
Headlining the bonus materials is the Picture-in-Picture option, which opens up to interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage and location and character analyses. Traditional extras include a handful of plot-heavy deleted scenes and featurettes on the locations, the rooftop pursuit action sequence, the fight scenes, driving school and the New York chase. Greengrass adds a low-key commentary track. Lastly, there's a web-enabled "spy aptitude test," for what it's worth.
Note: There have been widespread reports of this disc failing to work in some HD DVD drives. I encountered this problem as well. Eventually the disc played, but only after some trial and error.
Now that I've gotten that rant out of my system, here are the pluses: the action scenes are all top-shelf, though there's nothing here that has eclipsed the fury of the climactic car chase in Supremacy. The signature Greengrass shaky-cam style is present, but the action is easier to follow. The acting is great as well, from Damon's even-keel though lethal approach with Bourne to the great David Strathairn as the heavy to Joan Allen, providing a welcome respite from absurdly evil CIA middle managers. Finally, there's a terrific twist towards the end that feeds directly into what the previous film established.
Yes, I've turned on Bourne and the handling of the material by filmmakers, but there's no denying the talent involved. If watching Matt Damon throttle CIA lackeys that are more evil than Skeletor gets your motor running, you will certainly have a better time with this finale than I did. Sweet HD DVD, regardless.
Guilty of aggravating the crap out of me.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Picture in Picture
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Rooftop Pursuit
* Fight Scene Feature
* Driving School
* New York Chase
* Web Content