THE BOURNE LEGACY, 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Corey Stoll
Review by Joshua Starnes
THE BOURNE LEGACY MOVIE TRAILER WATCH
A story centered on a new CIA operative in the universe based on Robert Ludlum's novels.
What to do with an action movie franchise no one involved with wants to continue. That was pretty much the problem facing Universal when director Peter Greengrass and star Matt Damon decided they did not want to make any more “Bourne” films following “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Recently that sort of thing has offered studios two choices: to restart the series from scratch, or to attempt to carry on with new actors and creative personnel. The vogue at the moment is to go with the former, so it’s pleasantly surprising then that Universal has decided to carry on with the story they began way back in 2001’s “The Bourne Identity,” not just with new actors but with entirely new characters.
Replacing Damon’s uber-spy Jason Bourne is Jeremy Renner’s uber-spy Aaron Cross, a next generation version of the Bourne prototype, who is part of a group of the government’s best spy’s trained and conditioned in the Bourne mold, the benefit of the films titular “Legacy.” That legacy turns out to be a double edged sword, however, as the events of the previous films cause the shadowy corners of the US government (Edward Norton) to re-think the entire program to the point that they begin wiping out all of its members and operatives, unknowingly leaving one survivor (Renner) who understandably wants to know what the hell is going on.
Despite bringing in new characters, themes and relationships—and a new creative team—“The Bourne Legacy” definitely feels of a piece with the film’s that have come before. A lot of that is due to franchise writer Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) moving into the director’s chair and bringing many of the tricks he has already utilized back. Similar to the beginning of “Ultimatum” Gilroy spends the first half of “Legacy” building links between the new story and the old by mixing footage from the previous film with new elements that explain previously unknown events going on simultaneously with the last film. In particular we learn early on that Jason Bourne’s escapade’s in New York has created a chain reaction leading to the closing down and killing off of anyone who might know about it.
From there, in between introductions of the films new leading characters, we get the usual tense escapes and quests for obscure truths wrapped around CIA analysts frantically typing that made the previous “Bourne” films work so well. Despite marking his first try at action Gilroy quickly slides into the rhythms of the genre and the franchise offering up slick set pieces with the help of long time cinematographer Robert Elswit (“Michael Clayton,” “There Will Be Blood”). He also has a few new wrinkles to add to the history of the universe he has been building for a decade (and which now has little to nothing to do with Robert Ludlum books that inspired it), revealing that Bourne and his colleagues, including Aaron, weren’t just trained but were genetically altered to be superior soldiers and assassins. While Bourne was somehow able to survive without the medication doing the altering Aaron quickly begins falling apart without his, forcing him to search out the program’s head scientist (Rachel Weisz) before she too is killed by the government and he has no options left but losing his abilities and likely dying.
The slightly sci-fi aspects Gilroy has added might not, in fact definitely won’t, work for everyone but they do serve to bring new perspective and some fresh life to an older series which was always going to be the real trick to the handoff between characters. Renner turns out to be the perfect choice for that as well. He can not only handle the tense, sinister killer vibe even better than Damon but he is also comfortable developing and producing a character who is markedly different from his predecessor. Aaron is talkative, funny, engaging but less introspective with more personal (read selfish) reasons for doing what he’s doing. The hardest part of any sequel is providing that audience requirement of ‘the same but different’ but Gilroy and Renner have managed to do just that.
Unfortunately it’s the same parts where trouble starts. One of the biggest problems with writers taking over as director’s is they lose a major creative voice able to objectively spot weaknesses in the script and deal with them. As a writer-director Gilroy doesn’t have that and it shows as many of the series weakest tropes rear their heads again. While often refreshingly subtextual, it’s just as often needlessly labyrinthine as characters darkly discuss acronyms and code words which they will never explain and thus have no real connection or meaning to the audience.
Worse there is a terrible lack of structure combined with some unbelievable sequel baiting which results in “Legacy” effectively ending after the second act with no real conclusion. The first “Bourne” film had a similar problem but you would think they’d had that ironed out by now. Instead “Legacy” doesn’t end so much as stop with many characters never even identifying much less confronting their primary antagonists, creating a whiplash effect when the credits finally roll.
That said, as mindless entertainment goes “Legacy” is better than most with good dialog and excellent character work from Renner. But it’s incomplete and ultimately unable to carve out an identity of its own. They do seem intent on making yet another one, so perhaps they’ll figure all this out by then.