[Review] - The Bourne Legacy

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The Bourne Legacy is an odd duck, being the first movie of it's own anticipated series, and the fourth entry in an existing series. Due to this, it has to serve several masters. It has to establish itself as a story, with fresh characters, that can support their own film. At the same time, it has to integrate itself into a preexisting world, in a way that doesn't feel shoehorned. Extensive use of footage from The Bourne Ultimatum in the first act, and the return of many of those actors, in what amounts to cameo level appearances, in fresh footage manage to make the latter happen, while a slow burn approach, and what ends up being a paper thing plot takes care of the former.

If nothing else, for the first time since the original, the movie title makes sense.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have been enhanced through science.

All action movies are fantasy films, lets make certain that much is clear. What the Bourne movies did to set themselves apart, and what made everyone freak out about them, was they aimed much closer to the 'realistic' end of that kind of fantasy, and were thus proclaimed to have reinvented the action genre. The results were a revamped look for the Bond franchise, and a host of follow the leader action films, like Taken, where the camera shakes as the characters run, where the car chases involve a lot of damage, and everybody bleeds.

Legacy fumbles its way into science fiction about halfway through it's run time, with a technobabble explosion of exposition with the end result of chromosome tinkering. What makes this all the more off setting is that writer/director Tony Gilroy was the man behind the scripts for the original three films, which means he looked at what he had down, and made the conscious decision to travel down a road that makes less sense then just having Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) be yet another highly trained operative.

The decision makes sense in the context of the film. First, it sets Cross apart from Bourne, whose skills were beaten into him. Cross was gifted his abilities, which also makes him more relatable, in a way. The impression that this was something done to him, rather then something he did to himself. However, it almost instantly takes that away when you realise that Cross never had Bourne's moment of enlightenment, that he didn't grow out of his training. Cross is still a killer, unabashedly, and only starts his journey here for self preservation. He's not trying to be a morally better man, and he doesn't seem interested in that.

The other was, it gives Cross a motivation to move towards. Bourne had actual motivation, trying to discover who he was, and seeking revenge. Cross' motivations are much more selfish, and if you remove the sci-fi genetic engineering plot, the movie pretty much falls apart. And considering how thin that plot is, that it can pad that out to over two hours, the longest of the films, is all the more confusing. The action of the film hinges on two basic motivations: for the first act, the government's (represented by Ed Norton) attempt to wipe Outcome (a satellite project of the original series Treadstone and Blackbriar) off the map, leading to Cross and Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) nearly getting killed. The entire rest of the film in concerned with Shearing helping Cross to attempt to make permanent the enhanced abilities the project gave him.

So, the movie has to rely on character interaction to make up for the lack of plot. Unfortunately, none of the characters here are as fully realised as any from the previous series, again odd considering they all share the same writer, and is perhaps a sign then Gilroy has run out of steam in this franchise. Ed Norton's character is practically nameless, and amount to nothing more then a face the audience can recognise as they guy working against the 'heroes'. A single flashback does little to fill in a personal history between Cross and Norton. You never feel for Norton's character, one way or another, the way you did Joan Allen, or David Strathairn, or Brian Cox, or Chris Cooper. He's an empty shirt, just pacing back and forth in a control room, issuing orders and looking frustrated. The same goes for any of the government people, which include Stacy Keach and Donna Murphy. They're just there, but never actually do anything.

What saves it, is that Renner and Weisz have wonderful chemistry, and considering the bulk of the film is them together, that is important. Even is Weisz is forced to be Mrs. Exposition for the first half of the film. What their relationship has that none of Bourne's ever did, is humour, which Renner is very good. His sarcasm and tendency to give the smart ass response sets his part, and endears him a little, and helps to disarm Weisz' character.

The most off putting thing about the film is how little happens in it. There are few set pieces, or at least, short set pieces, which means that long stretches of the film are either dialogue heavy (each of which should have been trimmed, especially the therapy session in Shearing's kitchen) or just footage of people walking through crowds. There is only one car chase, and it happens in the 'climax' of the film. The original series had these problems too, though in the opposite order. The action sequences went on for far too long, and the characters didn't talk enough some times. However, those films were still able to raise the level of tension in something as mundane as walking through Waterloo station.  Legacy never reaches that, and at no point do you actaully feel worried about anyone. They play up that he'll be ill, that he nearly died once before, then his fever breaks minutes before the cops show up, and he's fine. They play up that his decline without drugs will he a steep drop, but all we see are a couple of memories and he stumbles, and all is fixed. This isn't pulse pounding action, this is practically theaputic. Maybe it's poorly constructed, or maybe we've become jaded, and need to move on.

The real crime of the film is the lack of everything. The lack of conclusion, the lack of revelation, the lack of retribution. Each of the original films had it's own arc, while each being it's own act in the grander story. It worked because if the next one had never been made, there was still a feeling of finality. Legacy feels like a story that will be finished later, and that is no way to make a film. This is just, what, a prologue? Just setting up the board, so the game can begin next time. No thank you. Except for a nameless assassin, which every one of teh films has had, there is no antogonist here. There are barely protagonists. Weisz is wonderful and really is the star of the film, and seeing this I have no idea how Marvel hasn't snatched her up for one of their sorly needed female heroes. Renner too, is impressive, and maybe if he were given a more substantial character to play, he might have been at an equal to his co-star. The rest is a waste.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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