The Bourne Legacy
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Oscar Isaac
Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
Release Date: August 10, 2012
PLOT: A spy (Renner) for the C.I.A uncovers a plot by the agency to poison other agents just like him.
WHO’S IT FOR?: If you miss experiencing Jason Bourne movies, you’d be better off getting your hands on the original trilogy. If there’s some empty hole in your soul that craves to see second-grade spies being chased around by people with Bluetooth headsets, then fine, The Bourne Legacy does indeed have both. Just don’t go to this one expecting to actually see Jason Bourne, who only makes an appearance as a mug shot.
EXPECTATIONS: Jeremy Renner has proven to be a fine action movie commodity, especially in the previous Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. If it matters at all, I definitely liked new director Gilroy’s previously directed films, Duplicity and Michael Clayton.
Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross: Though he’s done well in the other action franchises he’s been dipping his many tentacles into (Mission Impossible and The Avengers), Renner’s personal contribution to this series does not give it any special boost. Maybe if he had done this character BEFORE Bourne, he’d be more memorable — simply because of how the “action hero” has changed. Sure, Renner can throw a couple of mean punches at a fast speed, but such quick take-downs and parkour-like agility is old hat for leaders of the genre, and likely because of the work of Matt Damon’s original character. Renner’s own agent in this Bourne arc is a has-been with little to stand tall from the rest. This film tries to make Cross a bit crafty, but it’s by over-complicated means (just watch him put a tracking device in a wild animal). If you do want to keep the comparisons to Damon’s title character, then yes, Cross is certainly a downgrade. There’s little curiosity gained with this OTHER agent, who is dropped into the story similar to Damon in The Bourne Identity. Here, Renner tries to win us over most of all by doing stunts that simply look cool.
Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing: Should this role have been cast to someone without the ability to show fear in the face of unique danger, this character could have been easily lost to melodrama. But instead, this is Weisz working her Constant Gardner bones, showing some real horror in the movie’s more difficult scenes. After witnessing a brutal shooting, (and then another in the same week), she becomes more or less a follower of Cross, making for boring coaching scenes of “Do exactly what I tell you.” When the movie is done with itself, then it decides to make her a possible romantic interest, a sort of afterthought.
Edward Norton as Retired Col. Eric Byer, USAF: One could give Norton credit for trying, but the usually strong actor isn’t able to explain his miscasting here. The only way that Norton fits into this boardroom bad guy role is that his eyes are perfect for the sleepless atmosphere of the control rooms hunting down Cross via a speedy internet connection. Thankfully there’s only one moment in Norton tries to look more ruthless than Cross (a speech about being “sin eaters,”) because even that hardly leaves a mark.
Rest of Cast: David Strathairn and Joan Allen reappear in Legacy very briefly as their respective characters from the earlier films to make Bourne’s looming shadow even larger. Oscar Isaac provides a little mystery as another agent who may or may not be trying to kill Cross in the beginning of the movie.
TALKING: Amidst a whole lot of “I want to know what he ate for breakfast, and what brand of spoon he uses, and what dog he pet last!” action movie control room gibberish demands, there are a couple good lines. Facing a potential cliché moment in the face, Cross says to the strangely hospitable Outcome #3, “Are you gonna kill me, or give me a pep talk?”
SIGHTS: This is the kind of spy movie in which the locations are established by being typed out (by a loud, old computer) in the bottom right corner of the screen. By sheer imagination of the traffic headache that must have been caused in the city of Manila, the motorcycle chase sequence within the urban landscape is exciting, especially with its tight corners and heavy foot traffic. Other action sequences might have cool five-second bursts of brutal take-downs by Cross, but they are still marred by a poor sense of understanding a location’s geography. Whether the action is taking place in three stories of a house or on the endless rooftops of Manila, grasping a sense of where everyone’s going (and how far they are from one another) can be made a bit difficult by the movie’s imperfect editing.
SOUNDS: To indicate to audiences that yes, that was indeed the final act, we once again hear the beginning strings of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” which many will recognize from the earlier trilogy. But this time, a gospel choir has been added to this remix called “Bourne’s Legacy.” James Newton Howard’s score, generic to the action genre, is overbearing to a kind of silly point with electronic percussion and distorted electric guitars.
BEST SCENE: The Manila chase sequence (from rooftop to highway to dock) is exciting, especially when it offers that exciting knock out by Cross.
ENDING: I haven’t felt underwhelmed like this by a supposed climax in years. It makes sense in hindsight that the chase would be a third act, (because the house fire was the second), but such a scene has the anticipating adrenaline of a second act, not to mention the randomness of a “final battle.”
QUESTIONS: So … Matt Damon’s actually going to be in the next one, right? Right?!?
REWATCHABILITY: Unless someone can successfully convince me that this movie is worth its Bourne beans, I have no problem with never seeing this again until accidental circumstances. And even then, I doubt Norton’s sleepy bird eyes will keep me attentive for long.
This fourth movie in the Jason Bourne franchise (without the guy whose name is actually in the damn title) is a bit like Never Say Never Again. That 1983 unofficial James Bond movie, which brought Connery back to the famous character even after he declared he’d never play him again (hence the title), is without some of James Bond’s trademarks, including the gun barrel opening sequence, or even the classic James Bond theme. Even super agent James Bond was powerless to the greediness when it came to his brand, thus bringing Never Say Never Again to theaters the same year that Roger Moore’s legitimate (though not great) Octopussy came out. Bourne, only here to witness such as a snapshot, has become a victim of such himself.
Knowledgeable of what works in the simpler levels of the Bourne films, Legacy gives audience members what they expect from the Bourne brand — smart people in headsets tracking someone who can punch people in his way really hard and really fast. Gilroy also has a couple of cool action genre ideas that play well here (Cross’ narrow alley rescue of Dr. Shearing, for example). To be fair to his efforts, he has crafted a fast-moving unofficial teaser for the next movie in the Bourne franchise. Yet whereas the movie is most impressive during its final scene, its random conclusion leaves us feeling like there’s a whole half of the film missing.
Ultimately, this addition provides nothing that couldn’t have waited until the main guy finally agreed to come back. No character (not even Renner’s Cross) adds strongly to the intricate story previously laid down by three better films, and the story’s arc (in which lead company Treadstone is now apparently only the tip of the iceberg) only makes things more complicated. Legacy even tries to throw in a variation on a few chapters from The Manchurian Candidate, and the results are underwhelming.
Perhaps if this fourth Bourne film weren’t so covered by its non-present title character’s shadow, it could be its own movie, without needing validation from its umbilical cord. Instead, The Bourne Legacy is a sequel that doesn’t do too well by its namesake.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10