I had mixed feelings going into this movie. On the one hand, the minute that Director Paul Greengrass and subsequently Star Matt Damon pulled out of the project should have been the minute that Universal decided to pull the plug on any further additions to the series. Unfortunately, that’s not how hollywood works and for better or worse The Bourne Legacy was greenlit. On the other Hand though, the movie did have some very promising things going for it even without the series’ namesake even being involved. Jeremy Renner, hot off recent critical successes like The Hurt Locker and financial successes like Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers was slated to star alongside Rachel Weisz (Who I’ve always admired as an actress and whose absence is the primary reason that I hated The Third Mummy Movie). Add on the inclusion of Edward Norton as the lead CIA scrubber and the series experience of writer-turned-director Tony Gilroy and there was a very good chance that film could at least stand on the same level as its predecessors. Having seen the movie now, I’m sad to say that it is not so. The Bourne Legacy has all of the ingredients of a good Bourne movie but the lack of a compelling plot and some serious pacing issues result in a movie that feels like nothing but an unnecessary echo of what made the first three Bourne movies into modern classics.
In my opinion this is the biggest pitfall of the entire movie. The first three movies took a character who, because of his amnesia, was discovering who he was at the same time that the audience did. The resulting alternations between Bourne running from his past and being forced to confront it were every bit as engaging as the parkour-style free running in exotic locales that are now synonymous with the series. At the beginning of Legacy, we are left off where Ultimatum began. Bourne (Damon) and Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) have exposed Treadstone and Blackbriar to the world and the CIA is now struggling to handle the fallout of the exposure. Apparently part of this “burning the program to the ground” involves killing all field agents with connections to the initiative. Enter Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), alone in an arctic cabin with Outcome #3 (Oscar Isaac from Sucker Punch and
Drive). As their counterparts are killed by a “medication switch” all around the world, the CIA goes with a somewhat less subtle approach and uses their supply drone to take out their cabin (I’m assuming Obama relabeled them as Enemy Combatants though so it’s all ok). Cross survives though, and after downing one drone with a high powered sniper rifle (which, if you’re interested is a Nemesis Arms Vanquish, Takedown Version, and it a thing of beauty) he tricks the next one by planting his tracking device on one of the wolves that had been following around. While all this is going on, the CIA is busy at work “Scrubbing” the rest of the program including the lab used to test the subjects. After one of the scientists (Dr. Donald Foite, played by renowned character actor Zeljko Ivanek) goes on a mind control drug induced murder-suicide rampage leaving only Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) as a survivor, CIA task master Eric Bayer (Edward Norton) sets to work on finishing what he started. Before that can happen though, Cross intervenes and the rest of the movie follows the two as they struggle to stay one step ahead of their pursuers and find the medical supplies that will make Cross’ alterations permanent.
As I said above here, the main problem I had with the plot is that there is none of the mystery surrounding Bourne’s past that fueled the first three movies. Aside from the quest to remove Cross’ dependency on the Green and Blue pills that have fueled his transition from man to super soldier, the majority of the film plays out as a typical cat and mouse game between Norton’s footsoldiers and our two protagonists. Even the reason for trying to innoculate Cross to make his alterations permanent weren’t in order to save his life or anything of the sort, but rather to prevent him from going back to his previous state of being merely below average intelligence. Add in some unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the science behind Treadstone and we’re left with a plot that does nothing more than punctuate the relatively low amount of action sequences.
Everything’s perfectly adequate here, but nobody in this amazing cast is anywhere near the top of their game. Renner is completely fine here but he lacks the sort of drive and overall charisma of Jason Bourne that made us care about the character in the first place. He’s fits into the part well but it’s just not that interesting of a plot to fit into. Rachel Weisz is a little better but once again has been much better in other recent roles like The Deep Blue Sea or The Constant Gardener. There are definitely some great scenes between her and Cross that elevate the emotional core of the film, but for every one of those there is another of her describing scientific background to
Cross that just doesn’t add anything to the movie in any significant way. Overall the two just don’t have the chemistry that Matt Damon and Franka Potente had in The Bourne Identity. The only other player worth mentioning is Byer, whose role is the first in my memory that I can think of in which I actually didn’t feel like Edward Norton added anything to a movie. Byer is just flat out uninteresting, and his part is completely interchangeable with that of David Staithairn’s Noah Vosen from the previous films.
Normally I’d do a section on the writing, but as a Bourne movie I feel the action is a more significant talking point for the purposes of this review. While it takes a bit to get going, the exotic and visceral action sequences the franchise is known for are all here and some even earn their place among the best of the series (I’m talking about the motorcycle chase scene in particular here, which marked the part of the movie that felt the most Bourne-like of the whole thing). I’m actually not a huge fan of how shaky the camera was in many of the fight scenes as it reduced the choreography to a series of man-shaped blurs set to a soundtrack of grunts and crunching bone. There are some impressive free climbing sequences though and the director’s use of unbroken shots for some of these is highly effective. Bottom line, the action is great but there just isn’t enough of it here to justify the 135 minute run time.
The Verdict: 5.5 Nothing Special
The more I thought about this movie after seeing it, the lower my score became. I know it’s not always fair to judge a new entry in a series by the quality of its predecessors. However, while I recognize that the creators were trying to avoid that high bar by emphasizing that this was a new branch off of the original, I also feel that the attachment of the “Bourne” label to the movie alone is enough to justify the invitation of that lofty comparison. There is a line that John Hurt’s character says near the beginning of the film regarding the CIA’s handling of Treadstone in which he says “You people were given a Ferrari and you treated it like a lawnmower”. That line is especially amusing to me because I would say the same thing to the people behind this film if I were given the chance. They took a compelling series with a history of combined critical and financial success, added in some great new actors and the highest budget of any Bourne movie yet yet the end result is nothing more than an average government vs. spy action flick. I won’t spoil the ending but it does seem very much to my like they were trying to parallel the Bourne Identity in a way that would merit another two sequels, but unless something drastic is done to improve the characters and the plot I just don’t feel the need as a viewer to see that happen.