Does THE BOURNE LEGACY move the franchise into a new and exciting frontier, or does it miss the mark?
As a fan of Intelli-Action (fast-paced AND smartly dialogued action cinema), I have enjoyed the Bourne series because it's essentially moved the action genre into a more intelligent direction, giving old tired franchises like James Bond new life. Watch Casino Royale to witness the renaissance courtesy of Jason Bourne. Thus it seemed like a strange moment when the lights came on after the satisfying The Bourne Ultimatum had concluded. Audiences were left to wonder as to the future of a franchise when its main character was essentially vindicated. The answer from Universal would take five years to arrive, as The Bourne Legacy would not reset the franchise, but rather move it in a different but no less familiar direction. So, does Legacy offer audiences another thrill-ride/political thriller? The answer is...well...maybe.
With Jason Bourne MIA and Blackbriar and Treadstone in tatters, we see a CIA ready to roll up its entire super-spy program, including a new and deadlier one called Outcome. One by one, these nine genetically-altered ginnea pigs are eliminated via powerful kill drugs disguised as the spy's daily ration of pills. In this smartly-executed roll-up, we are introduced to Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers), whose snow trek across the formidable Alaskan landscape is all part of his basic training. As he reaches a snowy cabin staffed by a fellow Outcome spy, the purge is already on, thanks to the efforts of Eric Beyer (Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk) and Marc Turso (Stacy Keach, American History X), who send Cross a going away present wrapped in drone missile. Cross escapes, only to learn that the lab which orchestrated his journey to bad-ass super spy status has also been hit, leaving its sole survivor Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy) as a likely target for 'clean up.' As both struggle to stay one step ahead of the agency, Cross and Shearing must work together to complete Cross's genetic manipulation before he reverts to his former self, an army grunt whose recruiter added 15 points to his IQ, just to meet the quota.
Lost in almost 60 minutes in an odd mix of backstory/new story/boring story, Cross and his CIA friends dialogue and pontificate on too many subjects to keep up. By the time the promised action finally arrives, we've been given rambling lessons on chemistry, psychology, genetics, and the best way to take down a well-funded black ops laboratory. While this could be appealing as a documentary, it seeds a level of anxiousness among the audience that is not fully relieved by the mildly entertaining action set pieces, sans a gritty and intense shooting at the spy lab. Why director/writer Tony Gilroy (who penned all the Bourne films) felt that such conversations were necessary (and why we're forced to endure them) are beyond me. In addition, there's an odd feel to The Bourne Legacy, as if what we're watching is a 'looks and sounds like Bourne' flick, but is missing something underneath. Perhaps it's the soul of Matt Damon's hero that's gone, but it's also the lackadaisical pace at which the story moves. Perhaps it's true that movies utilizing the same director and writer are doomed to failure (unless you're Joss Whedon), as a serious editing opportunity by an objective third party appears to have been missed.
Renner satisfies as a suitable replacement for Bourne, but there's that lost element again in the switch. Where Bourne was a compassionate but invincible foe, Cross seems more like a drug addict, singularly fixated on 'locking in' his abilities by forcing a virus into his system to...blah blah blah. Stacy Keach is an odd choice here, but Norton plays CIA jerk quite well, sending you fixated glances about the unraveling mess that is Outcome. While the chemistry between Renner and Weisz make for good (not great) cinema, Gilroy does manage to interject enough of the Bourne humor to allow Cross and Shearing time to comment on the status of the chase. I think Renner will ultimately succeed in the role, but Gilroy must push the envelope beyond the 'spy getting chased by ill-suited black-ops hacks' line to keep the franchise fresh and exciting. I did appreciate the way Gilroy added elements from The Bourne Ultimatum into Legacy, merging two movies into a parallel timeline. As Bourne enters New York, Norton and team prepare to shut down their programs and eliminate their agents in the field, an ultimately effective strategy in a mire of lost opportunities.
Near the beginning of the film, Norton loudly ponders whether one of his employees is meant to be in the same meeting as he. I got that same feeling while watching The Bourne Legacy, as if Gilroy's long-winded, short-on-action script was meant for a viewer who enjoys an unbalanced experience to their films. While he does adequately expand the universe, paving the way for a continuation of the franchise, Gilroy will need to seek a better action/story balance and come out swinging in the sequel. For now, enjoy this good but not great effort: it's all I can do from venting extreme disappointment at the screen. The Bourne Legacy is rated a surprising PG-13 for intense violence and has a runtime of 135 minutes.
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