There once was a hero who worked for the government. He served his superiors with excellence and did what they asked him to do. But then his conscience got in the way—something they hadn't expected. He ended up on the run, his former boss heavily armed and in hot pursuit. His name was David, and his boss was King Saul. That was, of course, a long time ago, but the story is one that still thrills audiences.

Robert Ludlum may have thought about David's desperate plight when he penned the novels about Jason Bourne. Or, perhaps the connection never occurred to him. It's the same thrilling premise, nevertheless, and audiences are caught in its grip again.

The first book in the series, The Bourne Identity, published in 1980, was recently re-written as a screenplay and re-contextualized as a present-day adventure in 2002. With Matt Damon in the lead, the film became one of the most intelligent and entertaining spy films of the last decade. While it wasn't exactly a blockbuster, the film's crowd of admirers has grown since its DVD release, and the Hollywood powers that be smelled a potential profit, so now we have a sequel. The first film's director Doug Liman has moved aside; The Bourne Supremacy is directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) with a slick, fast-paced style that is dizzying audiences and, in some cases, distressing critics.

But most religious press critics are praising the film as one of the summer's most satisfying entertainments. While they'd never claim that the story has the spiritual depth of the stories about David running from Saul, they assure us that Jason Bourne is a hero who's about more than mere survival. Like Spider-Man's Peter Parker, his conscience and sense of responsibility set him apart as an admirable hero.

Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) calls it "an intelligent, action-packed thrill ride which also has the documentary-like feel of a European travelogue."

He adds, "Most amnesia movies are ultimately about redemption—someone's slate is wiped clean so that he or she can start again. But they are also often about atonement—one has to retrieve one's memory so that one can make right the wrongs of the past. The Bourne films fit into that pattern, and what is particularly heartening about this film is that, where it could have descended into the sort of revenge dramas that have become so popular lately … it ultimately settles for justice instead—and not just the justice that consists of putting down one's enemies, but the justice that calls for confession, even reconciliation. For this and many other reasons, Bourne reigns supreme among current action movies."

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Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says the film follows "in the tradition of the best sequels. There's more plot and more action, and if the first film's leavening human contact and flashes of low-key humor are virtually gone, Bourne's humanity, and the moral and tragic dimensions of his situation, are ultimately brought into sharper focus." He considers this installment superior to the original. "Watching [the original], I was intrigued by the hero's dilemma. With The Bourne Supremacy, I find myself caring both about the hero himself and about the story. [This] is one of the best thrillers in a long time."

Rhonda Handlon (Plugged In) says the film's "heavy-handed violence lands it solidly in the sealed files for most families, despite its PG-13 rating." She also points out its divergence from the book's plot, and adds, "The movie takes a lot of mental energy to understand." But her conclusion is decidedly positive: "Jason Bourne … has none of the boyish charm of a James Bond nor the patriotic passion of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. What he does have is an active conscience that even the most sophisticated dark ops training in the world cannot extinguish."

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) calls it "a suspense-filled, heart-pounding drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The characters … have depth, and the dialogue manages to avoid cliché . A buffed-up Damon does a great job with the role and is very compelling." Her biggest complaint: "the acting of Joan Allen and Julia Stiles."

"Though it carries moral messages (or perhaps because it does) The Bourne Supremacy is still supremely thrilling," says Megan Basham (CBN). "Rarely does it fail to stimulate our eyes even as it speaks to our heads. That's a rare thing for this genre and it is certainly worth cheering (or at least paying eight bucks). While the acting and direction are top-notch, what I like best about this thriller is that it presents violence-soaked Americans with a spy who comes to understand the spiritual consequence of taking life—even if one is just following orders."

Evan D. Baltz (Christian Spotlight) says, "Damon is masterful in this second installment. He plays Bourne as dead serious and realistically skilled. The movie feels real. I'll leave the surprises for you to discover, but I won't be surprised at all if we have one or perhaps many more Bourne adventures."

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Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) is not quite as impressed. "The Bourne Identity was one of the best suspense thrillers in recent years. Its sequel … is a good suspense yarn, but not quite on the level of the first. Greengrass … favors too many quick cuts and jerky camera movements."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) agrees that the director's "handheld 'shaky cam' approach quickly becomes tiresome and annoying." He concludes, "[The film's] goal seems to be to mirror the success of the original film by copying the elements of the story as closely as possible."

Mainstream critics give it better-than-average marks, and a few are quite enthusiastic. Many are noting the differences between the acting careers of Matt Damon and his famous friend Ben Affleck—where Affleck has chosen many big and flashy roles and soiled his reputation with mediocrity, Damon is proving to be a more discerning, patient, and talented actor. He'll be onscreen again soon in the heist flick Ocean's Twelve.

Catwoman a feline film flop

Mainstream and religious press critics are already trying to forget the suffering they endured while watching the new action film from French special-effects wizard Pitof. They're almost unanimous in tossing Catwoman out.

Count me among the film's most disgusted critics. I've got a few words of counsel for Halle Berry—look to your admired peers, like Angela Bassett (Sunshine State) or Alfre Woodard (Passion Fish), and see how to become an actress of range, substance, and dignity. Actresses who rely primarily on sex appeal … who exploit their physicality for fame … will look cheap, desperate, and vain in retrospect.

For my full Christianity Today Movies chronicle of the film's failings, click here. But I'd advise you to just ignore the film and move on to better things.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says Catwoman "makes no apologies for being ridiculously laughable. It is impossible to take this movie seriously."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "The ideals that have propelled the best [comic book adventure movies] are almost wholly absent from Catwoman. Instead, the filmmakers have invested this character with the most superficial values of our time and robbed her of the complexity and tension that has made her a perennial favorite of Batman fans. In the process they've turned her into little more than a violent advertisement for S&M-style lingerie."

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David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) goes for the press's most popular feline pun: "Warner Brothers is left coughing up a $100 million hairball. Comic-book purists may find themselves up in arms over the changes to and politicizing of the Catwoman lore. Parents may be equally alarmed by the film's hyper-sexualized reconceptualization of the character. [They] may also find the movie's moral ambiguity problematic, specifically the blurred distinction between right and wrong."

Sheri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) points to the number of screenwriters (six) and says, "Too many cooks do indeed spoil the broth. It is obvious that the storytellers were trying to get all women to rally around the tired idea that for women to have power they must be powerful. That just is not true. Why is it that so many movies these days ask us to be someone we are not? I could not find one character in this movie that would be an acceptable role model, not even our favored feline."

To enjoy a parade of spectacular, pun-filled rants, peruse mainstream critic reviews here.

Christian critics condemn The Door in the Floor, I, Robot, A Cinderella Story, and The Terminal

Last week, Film Forum noted a few reviews of The Door in the Floor. The adaptation of John Irving's A Widow for One Year is getting waves of raves from the mainstream press, especially for Jeff Bridges' performance in the leading role. But just as Irving's The Cider House Rules was condemned in the religious press for its feeble defense of abortion, so this new film is inspiring backlash for the misbehaviors of its characters.

In National Review, Frederica Matthewes-Green praises its "wonderful performances … and extraordinarily beautiful sets, lighting, color design, and Atlantic-coast scenery. But the values are just creepy."

Elsewhere, I, Robot earned another ho-hum review, this time from Andrew Coffin (World), who calls it "a bland retread of sci-fi and summer-action-movie conventions, produced with enough skill to be sometimes entertaining but lacking the courage and intellect to be anything more."

Coffin (World) also has only the most tepid of praise for A Cinderella Story, "a cliché d, mostly lifeless trifle, most praiseworthy for what it's not—in that it's not particularly profane, crude, or offensive, as children's movies go. Chock-full of groan-inducing moments that even—or perhaps especially—preteen girls will see through. Its message is mixed at best, occasionally extolling positive virtues, but mostly applying a morality that is convenient for the story and its heroine, ending the fantasy on the particularly sour note of payback."

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Reviewing Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, a blogger at World says the film's "as long as a post-9/11 security check," and goes on to sum up its purpose: "To paint the current administration as soul-sapping, totalitarian hypocrites who use technology, technicalities and treachery not to increase security but to feed its image and ambition. Every move is watched by the incessant electric eye of Big Brother … . Illegal activity is halted or allowed as it serves the government's immediate purposes. Only immigrants and minorities are portrayed sympathetically. As Steven Spielberg films often do, The Terminal reaches a supposedly redeeming end—but it's as satisfying as the cracker and condiment sandwiches Victor resorts to for survival."

Next week:The Manchurian Candidate returns, with a timely science fiction twist.