The term “Blockbuster” is, at times, considered a dirty word in the realm of academia, thanks largely to the images the generic term conjures up: ridiculous budgets, explosions, fast editing, little or no script; all-in-all a passive experience which rarely evokes the old grey matter. The original Bourne trilogy, and specifically Bourne Ultimatum, changed the perception of the Blockbuster. Jason Bourne was younger, fitter, angrier, and wholly more likable and realistic than the other “J.B” – the 007 one. What is more, women in the Bourne franchise appear to be a big deal and not lost amid misogynistic overtone and clothes-shedding; they are reactive to the active and not hindered by scopophilia. The Craig-starring Bond films try (and fail) to emulate the Bourne action-packed, political seriousness and succeed only in producing a diet-Bourne which never really satisfies.
In his Studying The Bourne Ultimatum, Neil Archer seeks to define the Blockbuster and questions why audiences’ expectations are somewhat pandered by the generic label and challenges the misrepresentative attributes the “Blockbuster” label can produce. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) is what Archer calls a “serious Blockbuster”; one that critics can like and one which changed the action genre by splitting the entertainment/thought-provoking narrative. He presents a rigorously and meticulously researched critique of a movie which, at its heart, reflects post 9/11 and 7/7 anxieties. Archer’s writing style is highly accessible and does not patronise or attempt to overwhelm with a wordy, dry exposition like some film theorists whose main goal, it would seem, is to alienate and distance the reader completely from the film text. He invites the reader to consider his polemically engaging thesis and, with a summary and question section at the end of each chapter, actively respond to his findings. This is an intellectual and intimate experience which offers insightful acknowledgement and exploration of the political subtexts present in the film(s) not least through Paul Greengrass’ idiosyncratic documentary style of direction.
Despite its thin volume, this book not only manages to combine a full filmic critique but also includes enough of the first two film outings (…Identity, 2002) and (…Supremacy, 2004) in the franchise to help navigate any reader unfamiliar with the Bourne world. A whole chapter is dedicated to its visual style: cinematography, editing, frenetic pacing and the mimetic quality to the visuals which increases viewer exhilaration and enjoyment – “If Bond is golf, Bourne is ice-hockey: pass or get crashed, shoot or be slammed” (p39). Archer takes the reader on a journey and argues for the hybridity of the action thriller/political drama and the success of aligning action with narrative, while offering really fascinating viewpoints of mythology via Oedipus and Frankenstein and a Dickensian comparative amid the representation of American Militarism.
This is a substantial, thought-provoking book for all film-fans, students and laypeople alike; one that celebrates the importance and innovation of The Bourne Ultimatum but also offers up a sound, enriching thesis as to its significance and impact. I did two things after reading this book: firstly, I re-watched …Ultimatum and secondly, I visited Auteur Publishing.
This review was originally published on Down With Film