"The Bourne Ultimatum" is probably the best sequel this summer. The reason for this amounts to something very simple. The attempt was made to tell a good story, not to unnecessarily top themselves.
The trap that Spider-Man, Pirates, and even Shrek and some of the others fell into was that the first movies were big, so the attempt is made to keep making it bigger. Bigger battles, more characters, more complex plot. Yet, this is not the case in "The Bourne Ultimatum". The fights are in the same style of the earlier movies, but different. There are no out of control explosions or absurd amounts of gunfire. Only Bourne and his insanely proficient spy skills.
What I found most interesting about the movie is the way in which it is structured. In essence this could be edited together with the second movie to make one epic spy movie. Taking place over the course of about 7 weeks, the movie begins as Bourne (Matt Damon, in case you were somehow living under a rock) is attempting to bandage himself after suffering from a gunshot wound and following his confession to the daughter of his two first murders near the end of "The Bourne Supremacy." Then, approximately 3/4 through the movie, the final scene of the second movie is recreated, albeit now under a different context than shown in the second movie. Which makes the majority of the movie take place between the second to last scene in "The Bourne Supremacy" and the final scene in that movie.
This is a structure that I have never seen before in a movie, unless you count the direct-to-DVD cash-in of The Lion King 1 1/2. Which, fortunately, I do not. Giving context to that entire last scene was something that I was not expecting and that offered a fresh perspective.
In addition to this structural difference, the movie itself was a spy movie at its finest. Almost nothing is done in this film that could not happen in real life. There are no crazy gadgets like James Bond and no face changing like in Mission: Impossible. No, when a fight breaks out, it's brutal. The action is in your face and does not let up throughout the entirety of the movie. The car chases are also incredible and are the only point where the suspension of disbelief needs to be raised just a little bit. The way in which the characters are able to maneuver through traffic seems to be unrealistic, but then again, I am not a professional driver so maybe it isn't. Either way, the car chases are still more grounded in reality than most other movies.
That's not to say that there is no story. On the contrary, the story accommodates the action in such a way that it never feels forced. Bourne only uses force when necessary and never crosses the line. And the film is better for it. Still not able to remember his past, Bourne attempts to put an end to everything once and for all and follow his past back to the beginning. He desperately needs to put it all behind him in order to continue the life that he now wants to lead. Hot on his trail is Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) who knows who Bourne truly is and wants to make sure Bourne does not ruin anything for him. Also brought back into the fray is Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) who is convinced that Bourne wants to be left alone but argues with Vosen over what to do about Bourne. The dynamic between these two characters is very reminiscent of the dynamic between her and Brian Cox's character in the second movie. Yet, this time Pamela knows more and is more calm about her decisions than she was in "Supremacy".
What follows is a satisfying conclusion to the Bourne trilogy and an excellent way to end the series. The answers about Bourne's past, who he is, and what he is to become are all answered in a way that does not feel tacked on but part of an elaborate plan set up from the beginning. Given that the movies deviated so much from books, this is somewhat hard to believe but the way it is shown, it works very well.
All is not great with the movie though, as Julia Stiles' character Nicky Parsons seems to serve no real purpose to the story and was almost thrown in there just to give an unnecessary closure to her character. She shows up completely unexpectedly and coincidentally and what follows did not really work for me. I understood what they were trying to do with what they did, I just did not feel that it was necessary. Unfortunately, I cannot say more without giving it away, so I will just have to leave it at that.
All in all, this is an incredibly well-made, thrilling movie that deserves to be seen by anyone who considers themselves a fan of spy movies. Easily the best of the three, "The Bourne Ultimatum" stands strong against its predecessors and I find it nice to see that a sequel was done so well in this summer of disappointing sequels and especially three-quels.