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The Bourne Ultimatum review

There's a good reason why the Israeli Defence Force adopted Krav Maga as its martial art of choice. A lethally efficient flurry of close-quarter combat moves, Krav Maga skimps on the spiritual b.s. of ch'i and goes for the jugular - disarm and disable your opponent first, worry about your chakras later. It's the perfect martial art for the Bourne films, ruthless, no-holds-barred thrillers set in a murky world of covert ops.

Three movies in and Matt Damon's dough-making franchise shows no sign of losing its edge. Returning for seconds, Brit-director Paul Greengrass (United 93) picks up where Supremacy left off as Damon's amnesiac, thick-necked assassin Jason Bourne discovers a new enemy in Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), head of the agency's secretive Blackbriar programme, a "Treadstone upgrade". Tying up several loose ends (Jason Bourne's real name is… nah, we won't spoil it), it could be the final chapter in the series. But it also unpicks just as many threads (including a tantalising hint at a romantic past between Bourne and Julia Stiles' agency handler Nicki), making another sequel wholly possible.

Greengrass once again fires up his twitchy, adrenalin-jacked shaky-cams, flitting across the globe - Tangier, Madrid, London, New York - with a spy thriller that's not afraid to take its gloves off. He shoots intimately, up close and personal. The effect’s nerve-jangling. A big-crowd action scene set in a Moroccan market or a fender-bending car chase on the streets of Manhattan have the rough-hewn feel of snatched reality (it's even possible to spot the odd rubber-necking civilian going: "Hey, that's Matt Damon…!")

There are signs of franchise fatigue, an over-familiarity of action that breeds repetition (another motor mash-up, another revenge mission), but not contempt. That's because Damon, acting with his eyes and his fists, remains full of surprises. There's a stunning moment when Bourne, exhausted from beating a rival "asset" to death in a Tangier apartment catches his breath over the lifeless body. He looks up to see Nicki watching him. In another movie it would be the perfect moment for a quip. Not here. Bourne looks guilty, ashamed even. He's just taken a life, almost lost his. What's to laugh about?

Refusing to compromise on character gives the Bourne series its edge. Even when the stocky assassin finally solves his ongoing who-am-I? riddle - confronting Albert Finney's gloating doc in a New York CIA training facility - the answers he finds are uncomfortable. The issues Ultimatum raises about where to draw the line in the name of national security may reach above its popcorn pay grade, but it refreshes to find an action blockbuster with its finger firmly on the political pulse. 

Jaw-sagging action sequences, smart scripting and larynx-crushing martial arts. Injecting the spy thriller with true class, Greengrass and Damon leave behind a formidable legacy. What more can you ask for from a three-quel?

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