The Bourne Legacy
August 17th 2012 · 0 Comments
The first three films in the high-octane espionage Bourne series, released between 2002 and 2007, made nearly a billion dollars in global box office totals. They were successful, in large part, on the strength of smart scripting, as well as solid acting from Matt Damon in the titular role.
Based – increasingly loosely – on the series of espionage novels by Robert Ludlum (continued after Ludlum’s death, by Eric Van Lustbader), an adaptation of the fourth book was planned following the conclusion of the third film. When two-time series Director Paul Greengrass dropped out of the project, however, Damon refused to reprise his role.
In place of that film, we have an all-new side-story set in the Bourne universe, written and directed by Tony Gilroy (co-writer of the three previous films). While “The Bourne Legacy” does offer the occasional thrill, it unfortunately fails to live up to the high standard set by the previous films.
Jeremy Renner, who has quietly built some credibility with serious roles in films like Academy Award-winning Iraq War film “The Hurt Locker” (2008), and the excellent crime drama “The Town” (2010), is Damon’s successor here. He plays Aaron Cross, member of a secret government special-operations program, codenamed “Outcome,” similar to the “Treadstone” project that spawned Jason Bourne.
As an advancement of the “Treadstone” behavioral modification, Cross has been intentionally addicted to a pair of designer drugs that boost his physical abilities and mental acuity well beyond those of non-augmented humans.
When classified details of the “Treadstone” program are made public, government operatives like Eric Byer (Ed Norton) decide to cancel the program and eradicate all evidence of it, for the sake of plausible deniability. Naturally, Cross takes exception to the assassination attempt, and seeks pharmacologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) in the hopes of weaning himself off the drugs.
This is complicated by the fact that Shearing falls under Byer’s wide net of expendable assets, and that an operative from an even more advanced program is sent to eliminate Cross for good.
That the above synopsis covers only the very roughest of plot overviews should tell you something about the complexity (or, rather, incoherence) of this film. For starters, the incomprehensible intel-speak that was grating and awkward in the previous films, reaches critical mass here. We are forced to endure long scenes of Byer and his assorted contacts, accomplices, and staff bandying operational codenames, pseudo-military jargon, and hackneyed catchphrases as they search for Cross and Shearing.
Likewise, Shearing’s explanations of experimental gene therapy and viral vectors also fall flat. This is especially tiresome because there is little substance to these scenes apart from endlessly restated, on-the-nose, exposition.
The action sequences, by and large, also fail to deliver. Despite Paul Greengrass’ unpleasant penchant for choppy, handheld, shakycam hand-to-hand combat, the scope of the car chases from the previous films was quite impressive. Here, we’re saddled with ugly, quick-cut fighting in addition to an anemic excuse for the climactic motorcycle chase (after which, the film just sort of peters out, entirely sans dénouement). Missed opportunities abound, both in these sequences (the lone exception being a taut, all-too-real portrayal of a brutal workplace shooting), and in the characters.
While Jeremy Renner is passable as a Bourne substitute, he is let down by Cross’ total lack of wits. The previous films worked so well because Bourne’s quick thinking led to cleverly narrow escapes; with Cross we get a fake passport and a pair of glasses as a disguise.
Tony Gilroy is eminently capable of creating believable characters in impossibly tense situations (he had a hand in writing the fine 2009 American adaptation of the BBC political thriller, “State of Play”), but this is far from his best work.
Fans of the first three films are likely to be highly disappointed by this pale imitation of the Bourne formula. The bottom line is that this story, unlike Jason Bourne’s crusade to recover his memories and get revenge for his murdered girlfriend, never has near enough at stake, and simply didn’t warrant being told.
There will always be reasons to make films featuring shootouts and car chases, but the Bourne name needs to be kept far away from them.
By Mark Ziobro