The Bourne Supremacy (rated PG-13 for violence and intense action, and for brief language) is the sequel to 2002's surprisingly successful The Bourne Identity. Both are based on Robert Ludlum's novels, filmed once before as a television mini-series in 1988. Protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, giving a beautifully controlled performance) is a highly trained ex-CIA special agent (and possible assassin) suffering from amnesia after a botched job. The first film had Bourne on the run from a host of people who'd like him dead as he tries to figure out who he is and why he's being pursued.
In Supremacy, Bourne is more proactive. He comes out of hiding to face his enemy-which may or may not be the CIA itself-hoping to once and for all drop off "the grid." Several key characters are back from the first film, including the excellent Brian Cox as a CIA boss of questionable intent. New to this venture is the equally adept Joan Allen, playing a relentless but sharply intelligent agent in charge of tracking Bourne.
Director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday), taking over for Doug Liman, brings a grittiness to Supremacy that serves as a nice contrast to overproduced action extravaganzas of recent years (picture almost anything staring Vin Diesel or Nicholas Cage). The handheld camera work and frenetic editing are sometimes over the top, but on the whole serve the film well-culminating in one of the most incredible car chases ever filmed, a demolition-derby ride through Moscow. Supremacy also nicely balances the action with a few moments of introspection that illuminate Bourne's moral awakening. In one scene, after dispatching another agent in self-defense, Bourne lingers briefly next to the body. The wordless pause is just long enough to communicate Bourne's mental state-an acknowledgment of his startling ability to take another human's life-without becoming melodramatic.
It's also more than refreshing to discover a film aimed at adults that doesn't include an overabundance of foul language or any sex scenes. Even the violence is rarely graphic.
The Bourne Supremacy remains an action thriller-there's not a lot going on beneath the surface. But action-movie superlatives-taut, thrilling, gripping, exhilarating, and so forth-are overused and rarely deserved. The Bourne Supremacy, however, earns its right to them.