The Bourne Legacy – Movie ReviewAugust 18, 2012
I’m not exactly a fan of “fourth films.” Sure, there are some examples of fourth films in a franchise that are actually pretty good (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is probably the best example), but otherwise most are unnecessary cash grabs. Seriously, didn’t Jaws: Revenge, Batman and Robin, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which I actually liked, but I’m still throwing it out there since I know a lot of people don’t) and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides give Hollywood some kind of clue? They make money to be sure, but oftentimes they are so poorly handled that they ruin entire franchises and tarnish the reputations of great talent. Yes, Universal even felt the need to continue the Bourne trilogy, which already had a perfectly satisfying ending to begin with. I mean, obviously Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon didn’t think it was a good idea since they threw themselves out of the equation early on. Still, I recognize that Tony Gilroy is a smart writer, so when the trailers popped online for The Bourne Legacy I actually became excited and hopeful that a successful series of new Bourne-related stories could be told without the need of the title character. Did writer-director Tony Gilroy’s gamble pay off, or will this film leave a bad legacy for what was known as one of the best film trilogies of all-time?
Coinciding with some of the climactic events of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne actually has some success in moving forward a public exposure to the crimes involved with Operation Treadstone and the CIA’s other corrupt programs. In order to protect the reputation of the CIA to some degree, a program administrator named Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decides to terminate all of the members of yet another black ops agent program known as Operation Outcome (one in which its participants are given blue and green pills that enhance their mental and physical abilities). One such agent is Aaron Cross, who at the time is stationed inAlaska for a training mission. After managing to survive assassination attempts, he makes his way back towardsMaryland in order to find medications due to the fact that he lost his personal supply on his mission. There he meets up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor he had worked with over the past few years when developing his genetic abilities, and in doing so he hopes that she will be able to help him get taken off his medications for good and escape his assailants…
I truly had high hopes for The Bourne Legacy considering that the writer of the original trilogy (wow… will I really have to start calling it that?) was also the mastermind behind this movie. Sure, fourth films in a franchise are almost unnecessary especially when the three that come before them are perfect and don’t need sequels, but I was confident and thought that the story was taking a smart direction. After having seen this film twice, here is my basic summary of my thoughts on The Bourne Legacy: while a well-made action thriller that surprisingly manages to do well on its own without Matt Damon, this is nonetheless an inferior film compared to the trilogy that came before it. Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Bourne Legacy; the thing is that I found plenty of issues with the material which can really hurt the experience for some moviegoers. I think the main issue here is that elements in this film were repeated from the previous films, but in that trilogy they were certainly done better. Of course, such elements are necessary for franchise films to fit in with their respective series, I just felt that all of the ingredients didn’t fit in as nice as they should have in The Bourne Legacy. Now, I thought that the first half of this film is excellent, for Tony Gilroy certainly did a good job balancing exposition for all of the new characters and building up tension towards something epic for the end. However, I felt that as soon as the second half of The Bourne Legacy, the story became rather uninteresting and overly familiar. What I mean by the latter is not exactly in what actually happens in the story, but how it’s structured: main character convinces the girl to help him, they go somewhere, the Government tracks them down, and so on and so forth. I was never bored throughout The Bourne Legacy, I was just disappointed in how the second half used a lot of the same narrative structure from Identity after a fresh and promising first half. Those aren’t the only problems, though.
A big area where this film suffers is in its characters, because first of all I have mixed feelings about Aaron Cross. For one thing, he’s ridiculously awesome and can break someone’s neck with hardly any effort, but that’s just the thing: he’s too good. Jason Bourne was a more vulnerable character, and when he was fighting Desh in The Bourne Ultimatum he was taking hits and you actually felt like he could be beaten up by his opponent. Fight scenes in which the hero is challenged creates tension, therefore achieving more suspense and intensity. In the case of Aaron Cross, though, there is literally nothing in this film that he can’t do. Break a neck, shoot a nail out of a fire extinguisher into someone’s shoulder, even shoot down an Air Force drone with a sniper rifle; you name it, he can do it. Not that that’s a bad thing for an action film, it’s just that with a superhuman character like Aaron Cross you need greater challenges than the ones he’s faced with here, and thus I was shocked with how tensionless much of the action is. Now with a very intense lab scene (arguably one of the best in the film) involving Rachel Weisz’s character, that’s a whole different story, but mostly the action is disappointing when compared to scenes from the previous films. Speaking of the character Rachel Weisz plays, she is perfectly fine as an actress, I just didn’t like how she is eventually set up as a character that Aaron Cross is meant to save (and somehow miraculously finds?) and be with on his journey. I don’t know, their partnership, if you will, just felt clichéd to me. The last major issue with The Bourne Legacy also deals with the action, which I think plenty of critics have touched on already: there isn’t enough of it. I said what I said about the action scenes being rather tensionless, but it’s still cool to see Aaron Cross do all of the things he does in this film. Also, as intelligent as the dialogue is, there’s too much of it. I really don’t have to complain about it all that much since I enjoyed The Bourne Legacy overall, but it’s still surprising that the original films had such a fine balance between action and storytelling, while this entry has maybe 15 minutes of real action and then the rest is dialogue of a somewhat convoluted plot.
What I mean by convoluted is that it has a lot of plot details (along with holes) that might confuse some viewers, although I was able to follow the story just as well. When all is said and done, The Bourne Legacy recycles plot elements from the previous films in unoriginal ways and also deals with some issues involving pacing and its characters, resulting in a lacking story in comparison to its predecessors. Nonetheless, on a personal level I was always engaged in what was going on, the dialogue is smartly written, and I have to give Tony Gilroy a lot of credit for actually managing to craft a decent story after Ultimatum seemed to end the Jason Bourne story on a high note. Due to the fact that the end leaves open the possibility of a sequel, I hope that a follow up may explore the idea of Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross either teaming up against the CIA or butting heads.
A definite strong point of The Bourne Legacy is its cast, because for one thing Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of my personal favorites of the year thus far. From his work on The Hurt Locker, The Town, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and most recently The Avengers, Jeremy Renner had already solidified himself as an A-list action star with Oscar-worthy talent, and I believe that his performance as Aaron Cross is further proof of this. Sure, I don’t expect that he will win awards for this film, but nonetheless he is the main reason why The Bourne Legacy works better than it would have otherwise. You definitely get a sense that Aaron Cross has been through a lot in his performance, and it’s also great that he has that charisma and commanding presence that a modern action star deserves. He truly is a joy to watch in The Bourne Legacy despite the flaws of his own character, and if there is to be a sequel I would be excited to see more of his magnetic acting. I also liked Rachel Weisz’s performance… for the most part. She has some of the most emotional moments in the film earlier on, which helped me to sympathize with her character for a while. However, eventually Dr. Shearing takes a different direction (as in she becomes the standard damsel) and with that I think Rachel Weisz’s performance just goes downhill from there. Still, overall I think she did a good job. Edward Norton is great as usual; although I felt that he didn’t have much to do since his character is basically a repeat of Chris Cooper’s character in The Bourne Identity, he’s nonetheless believable as a villain. Everyone else in the cast is good, but nobody in The Bourne Legacy can compare with Jeremy Renner here. He’s the show stealer, because there just isn’t good enough material for the rest of the cast to truly shine alongside of him.
If The Bourne Legacy doesn’t excel at storytelling, at least it does its job well at showcasing some excellent cinematography. This film has a great look to it, and I appreciated that Tony Gilroy’s direction is pretty faithful to that of Paul Greengrass from the previous two films. I noticed in this film that Gilroy goes for a lot more close-ups and extreme camera angles in Legacy, which I think works here… mostly. The main problem I have with Gilroy’s direction is that while Greengrass effectively used shaky cam by allowing more breathing room in action scenes (meaning that shots are wider, allowing better views of the action), in a couple of sequences the camera gets to close and there are too many edits in footage. This results in some very uncomfortably pieced-shots in some brief moments, and at that point I felt like Gilroy really should have pulled back a little bit (literally) in his direction. Nonetheless, I love the stylistic look of this film, and on a personal note it is rather close to how I would have directed the script. Not only are the directors and Matt Damon big changes from the original production crew, but series composer John Powell is also among those who didn’t return. This isn’t exactly for worse though, because they found arguably an even better replacement: James Newton Howard. Yes, this is one of the two composers (including the great Hans Zimmer) who worked on The Dark Knight, which should pretty much sum up his talent. He is definitely a capable composer for action films, because his music is great here; sure, there are some moments where I felt that the music was forcefully placed in a couple of “emotional scenes,” but even so his score is well-done here because it helps bring back intensity to the action when it’s somewhat lost on the lack of tension and some messy camera work.
If you got the feeling that I didn’t like The Bourne Legacy from this review, then let me explain how I feel: I liked this film. It does a number of things well, especially in Jeremy Renner’s performance, good direction, some smart dialogue and the fact that Tony Gilroy actually managed to find a way to continue the story that I thought didn’t need a sequel. In that sense, I think there’s a good chunk of this film’s audience that will enjoy The Bourne Legacy. Still, it’s my job as a critic to point out the flaws of a film so that people know what to expect, and I can tell you that this movie is most definitely inferior to its much better predecessors. Tony Gilroy unsuccessfully tried to reintroduce plot elements from the previous films, there are some glaring plot holes, and for a film that should have a lot of action this plays off more as a drama with only a couple of action scenes that don’t quite justify nearly an hour of exposition. Overall, The Bourne Legacy has good intentions but is a disappointing and lacking continuation of the original trilogy. Plus, the end leaves open the possibility of a sequel, and if one is never produced then The Bourne Legacy will always have an empty feeling to it. Who knows, if the story is continued and somehow we get a team-up movie with both Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross in the future, then maybe this film will be better looked upon. Until that day comes, I hope that Jason Bourne’s true legacy is still in good hands.