A film review by Craig J. Koban August 15, 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY jj
 

2012, PG-13, 135 mins.

 

Aaron Cross: Jeremy Renner / Dr. Marta Shearing: Rachel Weisz / Col. Eric Byer: Edward Norton / Ezra Kramer: Scott Glenn / Adm. Mark Turso: Stacy Keach / Dr. Albert Hirsch: Albert Finney / Noah Vosen: David Strathairn

Directed by Tony Gilroy / Written by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy, based on the novels by Robert Ludlum

It’s incredibly hard not to be let down by THE BOURNE LEGACY, the fourth film in the series that was once populated by Matt Damon’s amnesiac super soldier spy.  Here’s a film with ‘Bourne’ in its title, but despite the fact that people in it endlessly state his name and discuss him throughout the 135 minute story, it’s kind of frustrating that we never, ever see Jason Bourne actually make an appearance anywhere (excluding still photos of him appearing on the news).   

Throughout the initial three Jason Bourne films I grew more and more attached to the plight of the title character, who engaged in a labyrinthine cat and mouse game with government agents hot on his trail.  There was a certain level of sympathy to had for Damon’s puzzled and conflicted agent, seeing as he had no memories of who he was or where he came.  Clearly, viewers became so invested in Bourne over the course of three increasingly better made films that the thought of continuing the series without him would seem like pure sacrilege. 

Perhaps that’s part of the problem with THE BOURNE LEGACY.  Instead of retooling the franchise on solid new footing, screenwriter Tony Gilroy (who helped write the previous BOURNE entries) has opted to re-visit the storyline from the third film and introduce us to a new hero and new villains set during the events of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, during which Bourne exposed Operation Blackbriar and the Treadstone Project for what they were – ultra top secret government programs that took U.S. service men and programmed them to be assassins.  This, of course, makes THE BOURNE LEGACY emerge not so much as a reboot or sequel, but more of an unsatisfactory sidequel that involves another clandestine agent semi-linked to Treadstone evading duplicitous CIA agents when he goes AWOL.  THE BOURNE LEGACY becomes almost a replay of the first BOURNE entry, which makes the whole affair reek of familiarity and redundancy. 

At the end of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM we saw CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Operation Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) being investigated after Bourne uncovered what Treadstone entailed.  This leads to CIA Director Erza Kramer (Scott Glenn) – at the beginning of LEGACY – enlisting the services of Eric Byer (Edward Norton), a retired USAF Colonel that has ties to the country’s more secretive and off-the-book operations.  They both decide to eliminate all members of the government’s black ops program called "Operation Outcome" (which certainly sounds very much like Treadstone) in the wake of Bourne’s discoveries.  In Outcome, participates are given blue pills to enhance their intelligence and green ones to enhance their might; neither pill will transport Outcome patients to the Matrix. 

 

 

One of the pill-enhanced supermen from the Outcome project is Aaron Cross (or “No. 5” to his handlers, played by Jeremy Renner), who is in Alaska for intense training exercises when Bourne starts to raise hell with all of his findings.  He narrowly escapes death after a stealth drone blows away a log cabin – and base of operations – for Cross and another fellow Outcome member, leaving that super agent.  Kramer and Byer believe that Cross is dead, which gives him the edge of secretly returning to the epicenter of Outcome experimentation in search of help.  He desperately needs a fix on his pills or face serious and potentially fatal side effects, so he befriends a pharmaceutical scientists (Rachel Weisz) to help hook him up with the meds, which requires them to go across the world undetected to secure them.  Predictably, Kramer and Byer learn of Cross’ survival and the proverbial global chase is on. 

THE BOURNE LEGACY sort of dutifully and unimaginatively follows the Bourne formula, so to speak: we have the incredibly lethal and powerful rogue secret agent on the run with a damsel in distress, running from and confronting hostile agents that want to conspire to kill him and cover it up, all to achieve his end game (in Bourne’s case it was to discover his past; in Cross’ case it’s to get drugs).  The central MacGuffin of the pill that Cross desperately needs and a manner that he can be medically “locked in” or virally eased off the pills to ensure never needing them again – is sort of conveniently developed and feels largely made up as it goes along.  It certainly is a weaker angle than Bourne’s own internal battle with his memory loss, which pulled viewers intimately into his thorny dilemma, yearning to find out more about it as much as Bourne did.  The fact that LEGACY’s script is both uninspired and derivative in both comparisons to and in relation to the other BOURNE films only taints any level of tension or intrigue it should have generated. 

The overall narrative itself is needlessly talky and, quite frankly, convoluted as hell.   There are scenes – endless scenes – where we see anxious, panicked, and double-dealing CIA operatives discuss their plans for ridding the world of Outcome soldiers while, at the same time, chatting away about Jason Bourne and his actions against the CIA, which is happening concurrent with Cross’ story.  Viewers with no exposure at all to the other BOURNE entries might become befuddled with all of the expository heavy conversations discussing Cross’ history, motives, and whereabouts while also discussing Bourne’s links to Treadstone and Blackbriar.  More often than not, THE BOURNE LEGACY is like a rejected subplot of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM that requires its own pop-up video fact-track to keep everything cogent. 

The one bright spot of the film is Jeremy Renner (so intensely watchable in films like THE HURT LOCKER and THE TOWN) who makes a highly effective and worthwhile Damon stand-in.  He is more than competent at showing Cross as an emotionally troubled and vulnerable hero that is, at the same time, a man capable of awesome lethality and tough-as-nails determination.   He’s paired with the usually luminous Weisz, who plays her part of the frequently traumatized doctor with an immediate credibility, even if the perfunctory role – requiring her to be rescued and protected by Cross at every turn - seems like a mournful devolution of her performance range and skill set as an actress.   

Gilroy is a very accomplished director (see MICHAEL CLAYTON and DUPLICITY), even if I think his abilities at honing in on LEGACY’s bone crunching mayhem seems to lack confidence and precision.  The film culminates with a fairly exhilarating – if not a bit overly long and geographically confusing – chase sequence that showcases Cross and his scientist companion fleeing through the streets and marketplaces of Manila away from another chemically treated soldier that Byer hires to seek out and destroy Cross once and for all.  The whole sequence is a welcome hypodermic needle to the heart of LEGACY’s overly talkative and leaden narrative, but Gilroy envisions it all – as all novice action directors do – with hyperactive camera work, dizzying editing, and an overall lack of visual clarity.   

In the end, I must ask...why make another Jason Bourne film without, I dunno, Jason Bourne in it?  No disrespect to Renner, though, who proves here that he has the goods as an action hero to systematically carry an otherwise mediocre film.  In the end, there’s no pure artistic motivation to further explore the Robert Ludlum created literary universe on screen - especially after Damon and director Paul Greengrass rather wisely abandoned ship - other than to milk the Bourne name for another petty box office nickel.  THE BOURNE LEGACY, even with the gritty tenacity of Renner at the helm, is neither a rousing nor compelling continuation of the Bourne franchise; it regretfully sullies the legacy of the three far superior films that preceded it. 

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