Movie Review – The Bourne Legacy
August 30, 2012 1 Comment
Movie Tagline: “There was never just one”.
I just want everyone to realize that the tagline for this movie essentially spells out how the filmmaker and writers are now approaching the Bourne series. The first film of the series came out a decade ago with Matt Damon playing the titular character who is a malfunctioning super agent that chops throats like a machine designed to chop throats. After a lot of shaky cam work and some stunning action sequences, the series is now rebooted or “continued” with a new agent that isn’t Bourne but has to use the name in the title to get people to care. Well with Jeremy Renner taking over as the lead, a new story line is “bourne” but like other people commenting on the movie, it’s essentially “still bourne”.
The Bourne Legacy is woven into the existing storyline from the third movie, when Jason Bourne is still on the run and his actions trigger the events of Legacy and Renner’s character, Aaron Cross. The assassination of the reporter from the third film is the catalyst for retired special agent Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to start shutting down existing operations that are related to Treadstone and Blackbriar. One by one, each agent in the Outcome program is eliminated and Cross isn’t going to take the assassination attempt lightly. So like his predecessor, Cross sets out to get, well not answers, but medicine with the help of Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing.
This is what really bothers me about The Bourne Legacy, the plot of the film is so overly complicated that writer and director Tony Gilroy tries to make the act of getting medicine a big mystery, shrouded in intrigue and masked with deception and bureaucracy. Instead of answers, which is what Jason Bourne was searching for, we get a hero who isn’t damaged from memory loss, but just needs his special blue and green pills to make him better. That’s the whole plot. There isn’t some overarching conspiracy, other than the CIA having “Bourne” programs in play, but that the plot is basically a pharmaceutical ad with chase scenes and guns to help keep us entertained. It’s no more intriguing than watching ads for asthma medication, except that there is a lot of subtext and layers thrown in the mix to give it some heft for the audience.
I find the weak plot to be the biggest issue to the continuation of the series. I am curious as to how long the filmmakers can keep using the Bourne name, but not have the title character in it anymore. Instead, the writers and filmmaker have given themselves this bright red reset button whenever they need to make a continuation or reference back to the original film plot web. In the film it is stated, with great relish, that there are numerous Bourne programs that all came from the efforts of Treadstone. The writers have now written a way into the fabric of the world to allow them to continuously restart or continue the series because the CIA apparently has dozen of these programs just waiting to be activated. It’s unsettling to know that they have an easy way to lazily tie the new story into the old one.
But with the shortcomings of the story, more so due to Gilroy’s unrestrained directing, Renner is a much livelier agent than the stoic Jason Bourne. Aaron Cross is a bit more talkative than the mute Matt Damon was in the prior series, which allows the audience a bit more connection to the character instead of this distant stance we have to take while the movie unfolds. Renner’s charisma does pull us into his world, wondering what it is he got himself into, but also allows to see a different kind of conditioned agent, one who is inquisitive. But while he is missing the intrigue that Damon had with Bourne, he matches the physicality perfectly. Weisz is also a welcome addition to the film, having to play the virologist who administered the drugs to cross while having to avoid assassination of her own as Norton is commanding the program be closed. She has some flashes of Julia Stiles character from the series, a character who has direct and indirect interaction with the hero.
While the plot is needlessly complicated, it is sharp enough to keep jumping fluidly between action scenes and plot development. It is still a movie about a guy trying to score drugs, but at least the brief action sequences serve up some intensity. The final closing action sequence goes on for a bit longer than it should, but it also borrows from several different chase scenes from The Bourne Ultimatum and even a James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. It feels too familiar, while exciting, but it just goes on a bit longer than needed, drawing out the anti-climatic showdown between Cross and newly implemented agent.
So The Bourne Legacy tries to carve out a legacy from its previous predecessor, but doesn’t have that polished feel to it. Sure, there is little shaky cam which is nice, but this new continuation feels like its going to keep milking the connection from the trilogy as much as possible. How many more times can they use “Bourne” in the title when Bourne himself isn’t in the film? The fact that the writers now have an endless story repository for CIA programs that never end means it can just be continued ad naseum. But with Renner leading the series in a new direction, I am excited to see what it can do down the road while the plot needs to be more compelling instead of watching a junkie get his fix and tighter story lines. No more needlessly complicated and convoluted exposition, but a tighter narrative. The characters are fantastic and have the gravitas that the previous had, with Norton bringing in a quietly, ruthless bureaucrat to the mix and Renner being a lively agent with some charisma to spare.
Rating: 3 physical and cognitive pills out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes