There’s a reason Matt Damon said he would only ever come back to the Bourne franchise if Paul Greengrass also returned. With just enough premise to keep these plots moving, it’s the frenetic camera of Greengrass that makes these movies work. You may only vaguely follow the government-y banter from people in suits as they constantly yell about why they can’t listen to every cell phone conversation at the click of a button (guys, maybe it’s because that’s preposterous) but man oh man you’re going to get several of the best extended chase scenes you’ve ever seen on screen. It’s all formulaic, sure, but I enjoy it thoroughly.
When you see the word “ultimatum” in a film title, you’re know you’re in for a movie with some finality. That is, until the money is right and you come back for another sequel nine years later. Nevertheless, this film really doesn’t stand alone on its own. That’s to its benefit. It’s easy to forget what this story is all about when it’s all mumbo jumbo red tape sticking together these lengthy action scenes. Here we finally get to examine the promise of the original premise- a story about identity.
The film desperately wants to make a point about surveillance. While the already referenced technobabble tries too hard to be slick and cancels a lot of believability, it does create a palatable spirit of fear. We discover that the entirety of Jason Bourne’s journey was birthed by men who so greatly feared attacks on home soil that they engineered a way to pull the trigger on whomever they deemed a threat without supervision. It was timely for a film made at the end of the Bush administration, yet this movie borders on lampooning the issue for how clunky it’s handled. Thankfully, we have a hero that is so perfectly realized on screen that his questioning of the entire process becomes quite affecting.
Bourne: “Do you even know why you’re supposed to kill me? Look at us. Look at what they make you give.”
This climactic question on the rooftop is a rarity in spy movies. James Bond, the grandfather spy himself (also a “JB,” see what they did there?) made shooting to kill a coolness factor. That’s a stylistic choice I don’t necessarily take issue with, but the JB of this film is the unique counter point to that Bond style of action. Bourne exposes the strings of the puppet, rather than ignoring them altogether. The analogy allows that Bourne is the story of a runaway puppet, cutting his own strings as he goes along. What keeps him coming back is not contrivance, it’s the remaining strings he thought severed.
It becomes clear that the identity of Jason Bourne was taken on by choice of David Webb. Behavioral manipulation was involved, but the choice was still made. That stings. It hits close to home because we all constantly make choices and have to deal with the results, no matter their origin. The greater thematic point here is that when our choices are influenced by fear they become the most wounding. Despite what your social media feed will tell you, God specifically made it a point to tell us that he did not give us a spirit of fear. We have been gifted a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind because it is the only way our decision making can lead to healing and peace. Running around afraid of everything has a loud bark but no bite. The film doesn’t quite drive this home, but it helps the truth become evident.
The final image we see of Bourne is a dark, watery swim towards an uncertain future. It’s a rebirth, out of his chosen identity into his true one. A three film journey that started in water, ends in water, and it is David Webb swimming away. The completed arch offers that our choices may consume our identity, and nearly kill us in the process, but we can leave them behind. That is, with a lot of help from our community and the grace of God no doubt. This single choice brings Bourne out of hiding for another sequel this week. If what we’ve seen thus far holds true, the Bourne identity will prove unable to consume him. Oh, and it’ll also be one crazy entertaining ride.