Review: The Bourne Legacy
There was never just one.
When you use the word “ultimatum” in the title of your movie, as 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum did, it implies a certain amount of finality. The plot of the movie, which brought to fruition the three-movie-long quest of amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) to find out who he is and how he came to be, did wrap up Bourne’s saga in a fairly definitive way.
But wait! In Hollywood, closure means very little when it comes to successful film series, and The Bourne Legacy attempts to restart the popular franchise with a new rogue agent, the similarly named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, last seen running around New York as The Avengers’ bow-wielding hero, Hawkeye). Cleverly taking place simultaneously with the events of the previous film, Bourne’s “legacy” is one of scorched earth, with various government agencies and contractors trying to eliminate loose ends in the wake of Bourne’s insurgence, which means killing all of the genetically enhanced superspies embedded in operations across the world (Bourne and Cross are but two of many). Surviving an assassination attempt in the Alaskan cold, Cross eventually makes his way to back to the East Coast, where his need for “chems” to keep himself enhanced puts him in the path of a virologist named Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, Dream House). Marta, caught up in the ongoing plots to keep the programs that made Bourne and Cross into super-soldiers under wraps, agrees to help Aaron, even as they are doggedly pursued by Eric Byer (Edward Norton) and a vast team of agents anxious to cover up the scandal Bourne’s exposure has dredged up.
Tony Gilroy co-wrote all three previous Bourne movies, which benefited further from the assured direction of Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman. Again co-writing, Gilroy also directs Legacy (he also handled the superb Michael Clayton). Gilroy has become known for taut, complex thrillers with a realistic grounding, a trademark he carries over here, but far less effectively. Few things connote realism in a modern spy thriller like tense, jargon- and acronym-heavy dialogue between people wearing ties and uniforms, and Legacy has this in spades, rolling out wave after wave of frantic pencil-pushers, working for any number of agencies, all doing their best to reassure the viewer that what they are seeing is really important. For the first half of the movie, this is impressive; by the second half, waiting for the repetitive, yet still opaque, dialogue to move the plot along grows tedious. In these moments, the movie seems so intent on proving its intelligence than giving the viewer the information it needs.
Luckily, the action is mostly worthwhile. Though some of the fights suffer from over-editing obscuring action, the film takes great relish in showing Aaron take down assailants in the blink of an eye and pauses to make sure the audience or Marta takes note of his skills, and it’s hard to argue with how well those sequences are staged (a staggering number of hapless security guards across the globe are felled by the unassuming Aaron). The climactic sequence, a prolonged chase scene, is impressive in its scale, but suffers from the same problem as the talky sequences: too long with little payoff. Legacy essentially recreates the broad plot outlines of The Bourne Identity, a clever bit of story structuring that allows them to establish a new hero going forward while recycling the hook that worked so well to begin with. It’s not that Legacy isn’t a slick, proficient bit of filmmaking; there are thrilling moments throughout, and Gilroy clearly knows how to eke tension from his actors, whether they’re bickering bureaucrats scrambling to keep their jobs or killers coiled and poised to strike. There’s so much to admire in what Gilroy brings to the screen and, most notably, draws out of Renner, that the film almost pulls off its inequity of intelligence to violence, all in service of extending the shelf life of a series that had reached its natural conclusion.
Despite its two hour-plus running time, The Bourne Legacy ends abruptly, perhaps banking on yet another sequel to carry on. As a zombification of the Bourne franchise, it’s classier, more ambitious, and eminently better than a movie with its dubious origins ought to be. Merely being insistently convoluted with punctuations of violence isn’t enough, though, and there will doubtless be more Bournes for years to come; many viewers may find the grave discussions of inter-agency malfeasance more compelling than I did, or at least trumped by the action and intrigue. As replacement heroes go, Renner's Cross is far from the least compelling, a Captain America with PTSD, and just a little tweaking of Gilroy's now-common moves would benefit any further adventures of Aaron Cross. Legacy feels like the first real misstep of the series, in turns compelling and confounding, the benefactor and victim of its own repurposed formula.
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Film: The Bourne Legacy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, and David Strathairn
Directed By: Tony Gilroy
Screenplay By: Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy
Based On: “The Bourne Legacy” by Eric Van Lustbader
Produced By: Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running Time: Approximately 135 minutes
Genre: Action, Thriller
Release Date: August 10, 2012