THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012)
THE BOURNE LEGACY Weaves Complexity with Great Action
Review by John Harvey
It takes a great deal of chutzpah to create and release a ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise movie minus Jason Bourne. The opportunities for failure greatly outnumber those for success, especially when essentially all of the key players (both talent and behind the scenes) who made the previous installments popular are now absent. This is the gamble undertaken by Universal’s THE BOURNE LEGACY a taut, high-octane, but often confusing spy thriller that seeks to (sort of) reboot the franchise in an alternate timeline to the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films.
Gone is Matt Damon’s stoic, intense Jason Bourne who drove THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004), and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). Also gone is Paul Greengrass, who directed the second two films (THE BOURNE IDENTITY was directed by Doug Liman).
While this loss of legacy talent is worrying, the replacements are far from being slouches. Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for all three previous ‘Jason Bourne’ films, is now both screenwriter and director for THE BOURNE LEGACY. Gilroy has solid suspense/thriller credentials in directing or writing on such projects as STATE OF PLAY (2009), DUPLICITY (2009) and MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007). Meanwhile, stepping into the superspy slot is Jeremy Renner. Renner has been consistently good in films such as THE HURT LOCKER (2008), THE TOWN (2010) and THE AVENGERS (2012).
THE BOURNE LEGACY‘s storyline essentially runs parallel to that of THE BOURNE ULIMATUM, showing the ripple effect of Jason Bourne’s bad behavior in Manhattan. Powerful people in the United States intelligence community (including Stacy Keach and Ed Norton) have been thrown into a frenzied state of damage control as Bourne threatens to blow the lid on their clandestine superspy program. They coldly decide that the only way they can keep secrets and save themselves is to implement a ruthless, scorched-earth protocol. Translation … everyone dies. Well, everyone but them.
Which brings us to Aaron Cross, a member of Operation Outcome, one of the CIA’s other black ops superspy programs. Different from Jason Bourne’s Treadstone program, Outcome provides its agents with green pills that enhance physical abilities and blue pills that enhance mental abilities. The pills are the leash that keeps the agents under control. In LEGACY, they’re also the MacGuffin that drives most of the suspense and action.
Cross is stationed at a deeply remote training facility in Alaska when the powers-that-be send an airborne drone to blow him up with a hellfire missile, having already killed off the other Outcome agents. Cross (obviously) outwits them, but then finds himself running dangerously low on the power pills that keep him going. His desperation to escape death and get a new supply of drugs brings him in contact with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist/geneticist who works in a top secret medical lab that monitors Outcome agents. Shearing, having barely survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the previously-mentioned powers-that-be, has no other option but to throw in with Cross and help him score a fix.
Ultimately, the established storylines of the previous ‘Jason Bourne‘ films weigh heavily on THE BOURNE LEGACY, sometimes to its benefit and sometimes not so much. While the filmmakers would have you believe that you don’t need to see the previous films for this one to make sense, don’t buy it. So much of the terminology, code names, characters, and other devices get carried over (or at least referenced) from previous films to this one that, if you’re not up to speed with (at least) THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, then you’ll have several “Huh? What? Hey, who’s that guy?” moments in LEGACY. Also, while it’s pretty easy to tell the bad guys from the good, it’s not always easy to keep track of who comes from what agency or their ultimate motives. With THE BOURNE LEGACY, Gilroy shoots for a dense, complex plot, but in reality the movie is often just plain confusing and a bit frustrating.
On the plus side, the action sequences in THE BOURNE LEGACY are a real treat, with the final set piece being breathless and completely captivating. Unlike goofier, pulp action films (ahem … THE EXPENDABLES), the ‘Jason Bourne‘ aesthetic hews closer to a version of reality where the gun battles, fights, and chase scenes could perhaps be real (…if you squint and smear a lot of Vaseline on the lens). In these films, the action tends to be more suspenseful and have more consequences. Also, with Gilroy at the helm, we get a smoother, polished shooting style (via cinematographer Robert Elswit), rather than Greengrass’ shaky camera style.
In terms of acting, I found Renner’s Aaron Cross to be more engaging than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Where Bourne was almost constantly laconic and mechanical, Aaron Cross is more expressive, affable, and vulnerable. But, when the action starts, his training and chemical-induced enhancements kick in to produce a complete killing machine. As an action hero, Renner provides more texture and nuance than Matt Damon. In addition, while Weisz could have been given the role of obligatory “female in need of saving,” she provides a much more dynamic and dramatic performance.
The bad guy side of the equation is more disappointing. Stacy Keach, Ed Norton, and Dennis Boutsikaris literally fill suits and provide serviceable, if entirely predictable, performances as heartless spymasters from shady government agencies. Renner’s Aaron Cross deserves a strong nemesis. Perhaps he’ll get one in the inevitable sequel.
Ultimately, THE BOURNE LEGACY is a good, but not great, fork from the core ‘Jason Bourne‘ franchise. With a less convoluted structure and better villains, it would have been far more enjoyable. Still, the action is worth seeing on the big screen and I look forward to Jeremy Renner continuing to perform as Aaron Cross.
Official Website: http://www.thebournelegacy.net
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Stacy Keach
Running time: 135 minutes
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© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey
John Harvey gives THE BOURNE LEGACY~three and a half knives.