Archive for the ‘Action Films’ Category

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INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)

May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 124 min

Précis: Long awaited ‘uber-blockbuster’ crams all things Indiana Jones into a wobbly ride and hurtles over a cliff.

Review by Matt:

Nazis, Communists and general villains of humanity or archeology beware. Indiana Jones is back. And if he wants to foil your evil plot then he will death-defy, bullet-dodge and absorb all of your mightiest blows until it’s done. No really, shoot and punch all you like. That’s one slippery old archeologist right there.

But if you’re sitting in the theatre to watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that is probably what you’re expecting to see, right? Crystal Skull is in the special category of ‘uber-blockbuster’. Everyone knows what it is, and what you get from it will probably depend on your expectations. If you’re going to the theatre saying “What I want is 100% impossible action and adventure of the Indiana Jones variety” then, you got it. Did someone say sword-fighting across two jeeps careening through the Amazon toward a cliff-top studded with nests of man-eating ants? Well, here’s your film. Beyond that though, there is some trouble. Crystal Skull is messy and clichéd and those things unfortunately make it a bit dull and annoying. So you’ll have to bring with you a willingness to forgive. Because it’s amazing how the film’s weaknesses can annoy you, even while the screen is filled with brawling Russians, archeologists and monkeys. What a shame to waste all those monkeys.

First though, the plot. It would have been heretical to millions of fans to suddenly alter the genre that the Indiana Jones series itself established. So the plot is familiar. Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones (the indefatigable Harrison Ford) is embroiled in the search for a powerful and magical artifact – “the crystal skull” – in an exotic land, Peru. Evil forces are on his tail. This time it is that terror of the 1950’s: the Soviet Communists. Nice to see them back as cinema’s villain (and nice to see that their head general looks just like Vladimir Putin – I’m sure plenty of patriotic Americans loved watching Harrison Ford sock Vladimir Putin in the face).

The baddies are led by Professor Irina Spalko (a delightfully steely Cate Blanchett), a comrade with a penchant for mind control (which is an interesting idea that is one of the many left unexplored). She wants to claim the power of the artifact for some kind of nefarious stealing-our-free-minds caper or something. You know – typical Red Menace. (Though note: although Indy is ostensibly battling the Commies, at one point he does recommend that one of his students read V Gordon Childe, who was a Marxist archaeologist – I say call McCarthy in to double-check Professor Jones’ patriotism).

Naturally, Indy is also accompanied by a sidekick who alternately helps and hinders the cause. This is “Mutt” (Shia LaBeouf), a young switchblade-wielding, hair-combing hood, whose Uncle “Ox” (John Hurt) disappeared while searching for the skull. And so it all unfolds in Steven Spielberg big-screen-adventure style, with many a thrilling action scene, a few laconic Indy once-liners, and an intriguing mythological premise.

Crystal Skull is a film that can’t really escape its magnificent place in history. It’s kind of like how Prince William can’t avoid the fact that the eyes of the world (or Britain’s eyes at least) look at him as part of the Royal Family. So this fourth installment of the famous series is self-aware, and it tries to ride with the audience’s expectations. But this self-consciousness seems to replace the free effervescence that the previous films had. And it also points to the problem at the core of Crystal Skull: it just overdoes it. It’s like they thought of everything an Indiana Jones fan could possibly want and tried to squash it in there. Ever tried to mash ten flavours of icecream into one bowl? How’d it turn out? Crystal Skull never gives full attention to any one idea, or to the characters, so they’re largely wearisome archetypes (bad luck Cate Blanchett – nice Russian accent though).

By the end, the plot-skimping has left things rushed and confusing so that it’s really just the crashing together of a few big ideas. Even when you think the film could be straightening out, it will be quickly knocked off course again by a swarm of “frightening savages” jumping out of the walls to try and pique your fear of “the other”. And I know that Indy’s bigger-than-life escapes are part of the genre, but I also found the constant impossible-factor a bit too much, especially since many action movies have proven that they can excite and thrill without becoming incredulous.

But hey, your payback is an outrageous action/adventure extravaganza with all the fight scenes, creepy crawlies, ancient temples and half-baked mythology you’d expect from an Indiana Jones film. I still thought it was spectacular and often pretty fun. But if you demand that it make sense, carry some realism, or resonate emotionally, then there is big potential for disappointment and, perhaps, pain. You’ll at least have to shoulder an onerous requirement to suspend disbelief and to suck up a super-sized portion of clichés. But maybe you’re like Indiana Jones himself, and you can take blow after blow and still have a good time. I came out pretty bruised and only half smiling.

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JUMPER (2008)

May 3, 2008

Jumper Review

Matt:

Length: 90 min

Taglines:
Anywhere is possible.
Anywhere. Anything. Instantly.

Précis: Shallow sci-fi/action tale about a guy who can teleport and the ridiculously-hair-styled religious nut who wants to eliminate him.

Review by Matt:

David Rice (Hayden Christensen) is a ‘jumper’. That means he is a special – and lucky – type of person who is able to ‘jump’ instantly to any place in the world just by willing it. Teleportation. A nice science-fiction premise. The slick new action film Jumper, directed by Doug Liman (who previously directed Mr & Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity) tells David’s story, provoking fascinating thoughts in its audience like “Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to teleport?” and… no. Wait. Actually, that’s as thought provoking as Jumper gets. It’s one of the weakest and woolliest films around, barely managing to articulate even its simple plot. Nope, teleportation is all you get. Fortunately, this is an inherently interesting concept, so with a bit of action jumbled around it, you might forgive Jumper as a semi-interesting piece of escapist nonsense. I can be no more generous than that, because films like Jumper keep making me have to try and defend science-fiction as a good and thoughtful genre (it’s true – just read some novels, ok?).

Just like Gyges, Plato’s original super-powered everyman, once David discovers his god-like power he cannot resist temptation. He lifts money from bank vaults and quickly sets himself up as an emperor of decadence. He spends his time ‘jumping’ from his flashy apartment to the world’s most exotic locations, drinking life’s nectar like a selfish jerk. This is problem one with Jumper – our lead man is thoroughly unlikeable. Hayden Christensen’s acting certainly doesn’t bring any charisma to his flawed character. To begin with, you think maybe he is portraying omnipotent ennui. You later realise that it is just dull acting. So why should we care when amoral Mr Jumper is suddenly threatened by a fanatic jumper-hating group called “Paladins”, led by the hilariously coiffured Samuel L Jackson? We don’t care really. But it’s a little exciting at least to watch David fill out the rest of the plot by jumping away from these pursuers, along the way getting a little help from Griffin (Jamie Bell), another jumper. David also has some time to try wooing his equally bland love interest, Millie (Rachel Bilson), and to try and protect her when she becomes entangled in the Paladin-pursuit.

Nevertheless, there are a few thrills and curiosities. It’s actually nice to see that Millie’s character is appropriately scared and angry at this crazy jumper’s unexplained behaviour – as anyone would be. Too many film heroines are unrealistically trusting of the outlandish behaviour of their protagonist friends. Secondly, Samuel L Jackson’s ridiculous snow-white hair is like a free trip to the freak show. And, of course, if you’re interested in sci-fi concepts such as teleportation, it is at least nice to see it manifested on screen with some fine special effects and some frenetic, nicely-styled action.

I’m stretching, of course, because Jumper is so shallow it’s almost empty. Morality is always the most interesting theme when it comes to human superpowers. Naturally there’s no attention given to it in Jumper. The deepest it gets is the reasoning of the boss-Paladin as he eviscerates his captured jumpers: “Only God should have this power!” The actual plot – when it finally appears – is simply this: will he escape? And there’s no embellishment of that simple story. Where does David even get his superpower? Who knows? A slight effort is made to introduce some themes about parental abandonment, but this ends up being one of the most underdone plots imaginable. Ditto to the film’s sloppy ending, which does not exactly give us a sensible resolution. Presumably, Jumper 2 will clean up the mess, but I wouldn’t put any faith in it.

I admit to experiencing some guilty pleasure watching this film. But you should know that I have not read the book by Steven Gould on which the film is based, so I didn’t have a pre-conception that could be sullied. You should know also that I took very low expectations to Jumper, so the mildly entertaining result was a pleasant surprise.

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LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (DIE HARD 4.0) (2007)

January 13, 2008

Live Free or Die Hard review
Die Hard 4.0

Die Hard 4.0: Just another typical day on the beat. 

Adam: Two and a half stars

Length: 130min

Tagline:

Yippee Ki Yay Mo – John 6:27

Review by Adam:

Men going through a mid-life crisis try and emulate their youth. Some buy sports cars. Some think that they can reclaim sporting greatness. Movie stars, however, return to the franchises that made them famous. We’ve seen Rocky, Rambo and Indiana Jones. Now it’s time to indulge Bruce Willis for Die Hard 4.0. The ‘.0′ is because it’s about computers…

So everyone’s favourite Republican-voting, ends-justify-the means, ‘I blow shit up for a living’, alcoholic cop is back. Gone are the Germans or the other highly organised terrorists. This time it’s cyber-war.

The plot to Die Hard 4.0 revolves around super computer hackers (turns out they’re former government employees) who are intent on causing a ‘fire-sale’. For the non‑geeks out there this basically means completely imploding the country by screwing up the power, transport and other major utilities (and yet another action film has absorbed the administration’s current concerns – the threat of cyber-attacks has induced much Governmental sweat recently, especially since the attacks in Estonia last year). Brucey-Boy ends up being the wrong cop in the wrong place and is drawn into the escapade by a geek he was assigned to escort to DC. Turns out the geek was somehow unintentionally involved in the plan, so now he’s helping Captain America Willis to fix the world (not that he needs help, surely – he is fifty-six and perfectly capable thank you!).

Die Hard 4.0 does have a good pace to it. That is, something either blows up or someone gets shot every few minutes. My friend sold me this movie by saying that it “is so bad it’s good,” and yes, I’ll admit the constant action did satisfy that for me. It does degenerate into farce by the end of it though (think Semi-Trailer vs. Fighter Jet and, yep, the truck wins…).

My problems with this movie (apart from the plot and acting) lie in two areas. Firstly, bad guys seem once again to be amazingly poor shots, particularly when it comes to Bruce and his geek mate. Sure it’s cool the good guy doesn’t die but to dodge 1,000,000 bullets is a little much. I like the much more harrowingly realistic approach adopted by movies such as Children of Men.

My second gripe is the fact that in the space of 36 hours Bruce is hit by a car, shot at, survives an explosion, jumps out of a car, is shot at again, falls multiple stories multiple times, gets beaten up 4 times, survives a rocket attack from a jet fighter and finally is shot numerous times… yet once it’s all over he is sitting in an ambulance with what looks like minor injuries!!! Mm, that kind of machismo really soothes the mid-life crisis.

In summary though, watch the movie only for the eye-candy explosions that it’s known for. Do as I did: ignore the plot and characters and bask in the sheer ridiculous nature of it all. Just remember, that it could just as easily have been called “Die Hard 4-point-Crap.” And don’t forget the good deed you’re doing for poor old mid-life-crisis Bruce.

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NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)

January 9, 2008

No Country For Old Men review
No Country For Old Men

Matt: 5 Stars

Length: 122min

Taglines:

There Are No Clean Getaways.
There are no laws left.
You can’t stop what’s coming.
One discovery can change your life. One mistake can destroy it.

Précis: A masterful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s philosophical novel on human violence and one of the best films of the year.

Review by Matt:

The first thing we see in No Country For Old Men is the vast Texan desert. It’s joined by the voice of old Sheriff Bell ruminating on the world’s inexplicable and wearying violence, and it seems a barren and godless place. From these opening shots, the Coen brothers – Joel and Ethan – have translated the meditative mood of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel into perfect cinema language. No Country For Old Men is in one way a tense crime thriller, telling the story of a man who nabs some money and flees from someone who wants it back. This fast-paced plot alone is thrilling viewing. But No Country For Old Men is also a poignant existentialist allegory about violence and morality. Adapting McCarthy for the screen, the Coens have made a film with action and suspense, dark humour, and a literate philosophizing soaked right through it. It’s a stand-out cinema experience.

Harsh as the Texan desert is, we soon see that it is not the landscape that makes it ‘no country for old men’. The desert is beautifully filmed, dwarfing its characters, but like the apocalyptic wasteland in McCarthy’s recent novel The Road, this environment is only symbolic. A few minutes in and we’re shown the first cold killing. Nope, it’s the humans that are the makers of this threatening world.

First there is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a no-fuss local cowboy. He pushes the plot into gear when he stumbles upon a bloody tableau in the desert. It’s a drug deal gone wrong. The drug lords lie slaughtered, leaving behind an unclaimed suitcase of two million dollars. Llewelyn decides to take the money. That very quickly summons up the demonic Anton Chigurh, an implacable bounty-hunter with a unique set of killer’s principles and a fondness for chance. He’s after Llewelyn and the cash. Javier Bardem plays Chirgurh with an unnerving calmness and a frightening grin. Chigurh is an almost unfathomable character, not just for his violence, but also his vampiric appearance and puzzling speech. In one of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier novels, Blood Meridian (which will be Ridley Scott’s next film), a character laments at humankind’s aptitude for evil and violence: “when God made man, the devil was at his elbow. Man can do anything, make machines… and evil!” Chigurh is this resourceful evil personified. His favoured machine is a compressed air tank and a cattle bolt gun and he is happy to drop innocents who get in his way.

It’s not long before Llewelyn is on the run with Chigurh inexorably nearing like a brewing storm (the design of the movie poster is right on). The resulting cat-and-mouse chase through the dark and decrepit hotels of small town Texas is gripping. The Coens meticulously construct scenes that trap us in the head of Llewelyn. Suddenly the pace slows, we hear every creak in the scoreless silence and we see every ominous shadow. The Hitchcockian suspense piles on, and the bodies pile up.

A number of other characters spin in and out of the chase (most notably, a slick second bounty hunter played by Woody Harrelson), but the third point of the triangle is Sheriff Bell, played reliably by Tommy Lee Jones. Bell follows just behind the action, sober and troubled like a rescuer arriving after a tsunami. His perspective cements the existentialist theme; he’s just one small man facing a tide of violence. How to deal with it? Following McCarthy’s book, the film gives considerable attention to this angle, which defies our thriller-genre expectations, but articulates the human themes nicely.

It might sound like No Country For Old Men is gloomy. Necessarily, it is a bit. But the Coens also give us some humorous relief. At one moment when Llewelyn is chased by a ferocious dog, he leaps into a fast moving river to escape. The dog leaps in after him and they both float and look at each other helplessly, unable to do any chasing or escaping. There are other laughs too, some from the Sheriff’s country wit and some from the unexpected twists. And nothing is gratuitous (see Eastern Promises or Death Proof for wanton bloodshed); by the conclusion it feels like we’ve been whispered a quiet secret that will haunt us later when we reflect.

No Country For Old Men is a film that has caused robust debate on internet movie forums since its release. Not only are people debating its meaning, they’re arguing about whether it is in fact the ‘best movie of 2007’ or the ‘worst movie of 2007’. Those arguing that it is a failure seem to long for the standard goodie vs baddie thriller and are irked by the elements of the film that stray from the formula. There’s plenty of convention to see elsewhere in Hollywood. No Country For Old Men is unique, intelligent, masterfully constructed and very entertaining. In this humble reviewer’s opinion you would do well to find a better film released in 2007.

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DEATH PROOF (2007)

January 2, 2008

Death Proof review
Death proof

Matt: Three and a half Stars

Length: 114min

Taglines:
White-Hot Terror At 200 MPH!
These 8 Women Are About To Meet 1 Diabolical Man!
It’s Going To Be A Wild Ride
A White-Hot Juggernaut At 200 Miles Per Hour!
A crash course in revenge

Précis: Quentin Tarantino’s homage to heroines and smash-’em-up ‘grindhouse’ cinema is half dazzling, half disappointing, and quintessentially Tarantino.

Review by Matt:

In a unique experiment, cinema powerhouses Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez each created a film in the jumpy, kitschy style of 1970’s B-grade cinema. They lovingly excised some ‘lost footage’, added reel marks, black and white bits, poor edits, audio pops, and (especially in Rodriguez’s effort) moments of square, exploitative schlock-ness. The result was Rodriguez’s zombie-action Planet Terror and Tarantino’s car-chase thriller Death Proof. In the US the films were released together as a mighty double-feature called Grindhouse. Unfortunately, the experiment had limited appeal, and it crumpled terribly at the box office. Tarantino’s Death Proof crawled from the carnage and lives on now as a solo release, separated from its zombie brother.

Death Proof takes a couple of carloads of sassy girls (who are sometimes in peril, but mostly just showing their sass), a liberal dollop of car-chase action, and smears them onto a B-Grade base to cook for nearly two hours. Its plot is built around two connected stories. In the first, a group of girls hits the town, shoots the breeze, and eventually meets the mysteriously charming ‘Stuntman Mike’ (Kurt Russell). The second story features four different girls shooting the breeze, test driving a stunt car and, while out on the road, also bumping into old Stuntman Mike. What’s this character up to? The plot thickens.

Tarantino has done an outstanding job of presenting the film. Behind the jumpy edits and grainy film, Death Proof is slick and well constructed: it’s glittering, diamond-encrusted trash. In particular the vehicular action scenes are marvelous – surely light years beyond the quality that the old exploitation flicks could achieve. New Zealand stuntwoman Zoe Bell also plays herself in the film and, of course, performs all her own stunts, which lends a unique authenticity to the action scenes. Much of the acting is also grin-inducing and enjoyable. In particular, the scarred and weathered Kurt Russell pitches his Stuntman Mike character right into the odd, fluctuating space between laughable and profound.

Death Proof is an homage, but Tarantino also injects a large amount of himself into the film. It’s stylish in Tarantino’s idiosyncratic way, which also means it contains some indulgent, sensational violence. Tarantino’s also known for his offbeat, riffing dialogue and he’s certainly packed this into Death Proof. In fact, the two lonely ingredients to the film are: firstly, irreverent and irrelevant dialogue and, secondly, car-smashing action. And the action component is fairly small, so be ready for a lot of pointless chatter. In other more successful Tarantino films, the dialogue hangs from a well-formed plot – kind of like Shakespearian comic relief, only the clowns are also the protagonists. In Death Proof, the banter basically is the plot. It does little to enhance the climactic action, and can be tiresome. This is really the weak point of the film. One gets the impression that Tarantino is so revved up about his dialogue, his actresses and his project that he just left too much of it in (although we are seeing the international release of Death Proof which has an extra 25 minutes of footage – the Grindhouse version was edited down considerably).

Death Proof stands well on its own. I found it guiltily entertaining, though admittedly much of my enjoyment actually came from enthusiasm for the Grindhouse experiment and the novelty of watching a cheerfully faulty anachronism (I felt the same forgiving affection for Planet Terror). But I would not really want to watch a film like Death Proof too often. The cinema that Tarantino is mimicking is actually not so great, and he’s adopted its flaws as well. It has limited suspense, some fantastic action, cringe-inducing gore, and a ramshackle plot that would have taken a couple of minutes to conceive. Looking at Death Proof in isolation from its schlocky, fanfilm purpose, it is enjoyable and, in some ways, amazing. But Tarantino’s gleeful revelry as he plays in his beloved genre doesn’t translate into quite as much fun for the viewer.

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BEOWULF 3D (2007)

December 7, 2007

Beowulf review
Beowulf

Matt: Two stars
Tracy: Two and a half stars

Length: 113min

Taglines:

Pride is the curse.
Survival is ruthless.
Evil breeds pain.

Précis: Rare chance to see something sucking in spectacular 3D!

Review by Matt:

Originally a pre-10th century poem on a parchment, the classic tale of ‘Beowulf’ has been transported into the 21st century as a spectacular 3D film. Spectacular looking only though. Sadly, Beowulf the film is just gloss, gore and paper-thin drama, inflated into a cinematic spectacle. If this film was retranslated back into poetry, it would be doggerel for some student revue rather than an epic worthy of its home in the London museum.

Cinematically at least though, Beowulf is a rare experience. The use of ‘performance capture’ technology means a cast of famous and recognisable actors appear on screen as their digitised doppelgangers. Unfortunately the zombifying effect of this process sucks some of the emotion out of their faces, which could have been useful for, say, emoting. Ray Winstone supplies the frame and voice for Beowulf the great Danish warrior. The computers have shaved him down, sucked his fat and beefed him up, but they don’t hide his rough cockney voice – “cor blimey, I’ll have that bleedin’ monster’s loaf, eh guvners?” (those might not have been the exact words he used). Angelina Jolie appears as a seductive water demon. She didn’t require quite the extreme CGI makeover that Winstone needed, but it’s still been used to sexualise her – Jolie’s demon gets around in a naked, neutered body with built-in high-heeled feet (how inconvenient – she can never stop and kick them off to run like most Hollywood heroines would). She ices it with an out-of-place Russian accent and a lot of pouting. Anthony Hopkins is a tired-looking King Hrothgar and Jon Malkovich is instantly recognisable as a pathetic courtier, whose voice somehow seems even more Malkovichy than ever.

Don your 3D glasses and these characters are suddenly thrusting all kinds of phallic objects out of the screen and into the theatre. Yet, despite our hero’s novel decision to battle monsters in the nude (please see Eastern Promises for what really happens when you fight in the nude), none of these items is an actual phallus (leading to Tracy’s disdainful summary of the film: “Bah, my $17.50 might have been worth it if they’d shown a giant 3D penis!”). In fact the film is weirdly timid. It goes to lengths to conceal Beowulf’s bits – so much so that it looks like a Simpsons-style visual joke. As is often the case in these Hollywood movies, this coyness is ironic considering there are no qualms about splashing blood and gore all about the screen. These blood splattered action sequences are pretty stunning though. Flying dragons crash along cliff faces, the enormous, gruesome Grendl throws body parts around and roars in the flickering darkness – it’s all absorbing stuff.

But, ultimately we have to put the visuals aside and say: what the hell was going on in this film? I don’t mean the plot; there’s no mystery there. No, I mean the utterly wayward tone. In one sense Beowulf is a film that moralises about lust and greed. On the other hand it is obviously making the audience into voyeurs and trying to titillate. One minute it presents dialogue that needs a serious atmosphere otherwise it will appear risible; yet the next minute a naked man is literally bursting his body out of the eye of a giant monster and bellowing “I am ripper, tearer, slasher, gouger… I AM BEOWULF!”

I get that writers Neil Gaiman (who wrote one my favourite series of graphic novels – Sandman) and Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) have tried to modernise the story. They’ve made Beowulf a fallible anti-hero. They’ve made Grendl a pitiable monster who’s only disembowelling the Kingdom’s revellers so they’ll stop inflaming his nasty headache (if only he’d thought of earplugs). They’ve twisted the plot to squeeze out some themes about human weaknesses. But could these themes have been more sophisticated than “moral men are corrupted by women’s sexuality”? The women’s roles are terrible! Perhaps the Queen’s most of all, who is ‘inherited’ into a servile marriage and proves her worth by dutiful acceptance. That’s regression, not modernisation. Beowulf 2007 has just ended up as a post-modern melange that is all froth. You’re not going to be deeply touched. It’s like medieval MTV.

If they were going to ‘modernise’ Beowulf by making it a show about buff and semi‑nude dimwits strutting along the coast in ancient Denmark, maybe they could have called it Beowatch.  It is not quite as empty as Baywatch. but Beowulf does seem to have taken large dollops of Baywatch’s macho posturing and exploitive perving, transported them to ancient Denmark, and transformed them into amazing 3D.  Maybe we should at least be grateful it doesn’t feature a big 3D David Hasselhoff as well.

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THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007)

August 28, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum review
screenshot-bourne-ultimatum.jpg

Matt: Three and a half Stars

Length: 111min

Taglines:

This summer Jason Bourne comes home.
Remember everything. Forgive nothing.

Review by Matt:

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is angry. Already he has battled his way through two Bourne blockbusters, snapping necks, bullets whizzing all around him. Now, as The Bourne Ultimatum begins, he’s still fleeing machine-gun-clad Russians and patching up his wounds Rambo-style as he goes. Bourne is a CIA-programmed human killing machine, with no memory and no true identity. He’s reached that point in every brainwashed killing machine’s life where the death and pain is too much. He wants to know who he is and why he was created. This time he is after the big guys. As he tells the hapless Russian he has effortlessly disarmed: “My argument is not with you”. That’s right, it’s with the CIA – probably the most sinister and formidable opponent around. Fortunately, in true pupil-turning-on-master style, if any person can crack into the CIA’s dangerous world, Bourne is the one. He’s onto it, and his pursuit takes him to exotic and lavishly-shot locations around the world – Morocco, Madrid, London, Manhattan – where he’s trampling over roofs, diving through windows, leaping over things on motorbikes, palming off snipers, bombers, knifers… it’s truly a visual feast and an electric experience.

To fit all this in, the film is almost all action, right from the start. And when it’s not action, Paul Greengrass (director of the engrossing film United 93) directs it with such a frenetic, hand-held style that, well, it still feels like there is action going on. Even during conversations. Good as this style is, it could become nauseating and during the quieter moments I found it intruded a little on my viewing experience – I’m in a cinema, not in a boat, right? Generally though, this style is gritty and atmospheric and it sucks you into the realism of the scenes. The Moroccan fight scene is so breathtaking and mercilessly edited that I kept flinching and trying to turn away to relieve the assault on my eyes.

Matt Damon doesn’t need to do much as the muted and resolute Bourne – he’s mostly a silent superhuman and occasionally I found he put the ‘bore’ into ‘Bourne’ – but that’s the way his character is. Julia Stiles reappears as Bourne’s ally Nicky Parsons, but she’s limited to being helplessly endangered the whole time. Joan Allen saves the females from relegation to ineffectual damsels with an important role as a tough and honest CIA heavy.

Swim past the adrenaline and you’ll find some light political undercurrents, but nothing too inspiring or radical. I don’t think Greengrass is really pushing any hard message; it’s more like current political themes and images are refracted onto the screen without meaning attached – like images from the day appearing in a dream. Scenes in the London subway echo the tragic real-life shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by London’s anti-terrorism police. The frightening and unfettered CIA powers in the film are justified by the ‘war on terror’ and they mimic real life concerns about unchecked power and abuses. “You start down this path, where does it end?” asks the decent CIA op. “It ends when we’ve won” is the familiar sounding reply from her win-at-all-costs boss (played by David Strathairn). Bourne exists in an intriguing and dangerous parallel world. Unfortunately, it is still a world where some stereotypes persist. While the assassins in Madrid are happy to use trusty old guns to erase their targets, for some reason the Moroccan assassin feels the need to blunder along with a home made explosive. Not very professional and not very realistic – so it seems like it’s just the Islamist-as-bomber convention reinforced on the screen.

As is often the case with action films, the excitement overpowers some of the other ingredients. It doesn’t need to be like that, I think – action films can still get the adrenaline pumping while remaining grounded in reality. The Bourne Ultimatum lives in a believable reality for much of the time. But even if we accept that this is the magical action world where glass doesn’t cut and whiplash doesn’t whip, some of the plot is still frustratingly improbable. In particular, the last part of the film scuppers the early realism. For me, this diminished what was otherwise an enjoyable cinema experience. I don’t want to dwell, but can I just say, I’ve seen Cops; if some guy goes on a joyride, the LAPD snare him with the helicopter spotlight and a squadron of cars so that there’s no escaping. Can’t the CIA get some of that going on for their city chases? And, while they’re at it, should they also install a lock on their own front door?

The Bourne Ultimatum is dominated by action and adrenaline. It has a frenzied pace, it’s shot with an engaging cinema-verite style and it’s certainly a well-above-average action film. If that’s what you’re after, then it really is a winner. Just take a deep breath before it starts and make sure the edge of your seat is comfortable – you’ll probably spend most of your time there.