The Bourne Ultimatum

It’s been three years since we last saw Jason Bourne, but “The Bourne Ultimatum” begins just minutes after the last film left off, with the CIA-trained assassin (again played to steely perfection by Matt Damon) recovering from that now-legendary car chase through Moscow. The event seems to have jarred loose some memories in the back of his mind. Those glimpses of the past, plus his fury over the murder of his girlfriend in the last film, make him more determined than ever to learn who’s responsible for all this, and to deliver the appropriate punishments.

That’s “Ultimatum” in a nutshell: a sublimely uncomplicated film in which Jason Bourne tries to find the truth and the people who have the truth try to kill Jason Bourne. Directed, as was the last film, by Paul Greengrass (“United 93”) and written by Tony Gilroy from Robert Ludlum’s novel, “Ultimatum” is as lean, efficient, and ruthless as Bourne himself. Dialogue is used sparingly, but when it’s used, it crackles with serious-spy-movie electricity. This movie is not kidding around, and that no-nonsense attitude during all the clever reversals and bruising fight sequences makes it an absolute thrill to watch.

Bourne and the CIA become each other’s enemies again when a London newspaper reporter (Paddy Considine) publishes a story about Bourne that mentions a top-secret operation called “Blackbriar.” The CIA, represented by the power-mad and slightly paranoid Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), furiously searches within itself to learn who the reporter’s source was. Upon learning that Bourne himself may be involved, they bring in Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), the CIA operative who has dealt with the amnesiac killing machine before.

At this point in the story, though, the tide has turned. Some in the CIA have become sympathetic to Bourne and his search for answers about who he was before the CIA trained him. Landy might be among his supporters, and so might Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a field agent whom Bourne re-encounters in Spain (one of many corners of the globe to which Bourne trots in this adventure).

Not that Bourne needs a lot of help. What we’ve learned by now is that, like Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne is more or less indestructible. Killing him only makes him angrier. He has the skills and brains of James Bond, but without that part of Bond’s personality that lets him relax. Bourne does not relax. He does not engage in clever repartee with villains. He does not smile.

“Ultimatum” is very much cut from the same breathlessly suspenseful cloth as “Supremacy” (which I believe was better than the first film, “The Bourne Identity”). Greengrass still favors the shaky camera style of photography, and he’s fond of staging fight sequences without any music or other adornment. Bourne used a magazine as a lethal weapon last time; this time it’s a book and a towel that figure into his hand-to-hand combat, in a fight scene that’s brutal and seemingly never-ending. The Russian car-chase sequence was the last film’s high point; Greengrass wisely doesn’t try to top it this time around, but there is a bone-crushing jaunt through Manhattan that serves as a suitable follow-up.

As the final film in the series, “Ultimatum” is tasked with bringing closure to Bourne’s search for answers. It does this satisfactorily, and we realize that despite the scarcity of dialogue and lack of information about Bourne’s pre-spy life, he has somehow become a real, flesh-and-blood, fully developed character. Damon’s lone-wolf somberness, plus his ability to use just his eyes and face to speak volumes about his character’s thoughts, vitalizes Jason Bourne.

B+ (1 hr., 51 min.; PG-13, a little mild profanity, some very intense action-movie violence.)