Since the events of The Bourne Identity, amnesiac former CIA hit man Jason Bourne has been living under the radar and off the map. But, his violent, covert past catches up with him, so, instead of running, he decides to take the fight to them.
Who'd have thought it? While James Bond was undergoing constant reinvention, little Tommy Cruise was gallivanting about on Missions: Impossible, and Vin Diesel was boasting that xXx was da bomb, the spy franchise to beat them all went about its business quietly - rather like its hero.
The Bourne Identity was a welcome surprise, a captivating, twisting thriller with (gasp) an interesting lead character. And we're glad to report that The Bourne Supremacy builds on and exceeds the original, delivering, quite simply, one of the finest big-budget thrillers in years.
Not that you'd ever notice the budget - this is in many ways an anti-blockbuster. There are stunts here, fight scenes and car crashes there (with the final crunching pursuit through and under the streets of Moscow vying for a spot in the cinematic auto-wreck Top Ten), but no glib one-liners, no pat love interests and none of the CG-augmented new laws of physics that Hollywood loves so much.
There's never a sense that director Paul Greengrass and returning screenwriter Tony Gilroy are ticking off boxes; instead, Greengrass, building on both the promise and aesthetic of Bloody Sunday, revitalises standard action licks with Tommy-gun editing and constantly whipping cameras. Fans of 24 will love it.
Storywise, we're not in corkscrewing, M:I territory here. In fact, the plot runs out of steam well before the end, allowing Greengrass to explore - and inflict - the emotional trauma suffered by Bourne. And so we end as we began, not with a bang, but with a quiet moment of vulnerable, and genuinely touching, reflection for an already exposed hero.
It's a risky strategy for an "action" movie, but happily it works thanks to Matt Damon's astute, underplayed performance, through which he totally eschews movie star vanity (and that toothy grin) to stand close-cropped head and shoulders above a strong cast. Damon's Bourne is cold yet not emotionless, lethal yet not invincible - a very human hero, racked by emotional and physical pain. It's a brave performance and, by the end, there will be few who won't want to see Bourne on the run again soon.
Exciting, emotionally layered and brimming with invention. The brains behind Bond should take note, for the Bourne series has proved itself the smartest spy franchise around.