Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne

Review of The Bourne Legacy. ‘Bourne’ again? Pretty much so.

Posted by Max Lalanne on August 10, 2012

The Bourne Legacy works superbly as a tightly-wound, fast-paced, and generally well-made action thriller if you don’t analyze it too much; if and inevitably when you do, the first thing you’ll naturally start questioning is its very cinematic existence. Or, put simply, why exactly was this film made? Obviously, it was a sly cash-grabbing move by Universal to reanimate a beloved franchise well after its presumed death, but thankfully it doesn’t contextually feel as such even when constant reminders are pointedly woven in – familiar scenes and dislocated dialogue from The Bourne Ultimatum, and Matt Damon’s fresh mugshot appearing on a dozen confidential files strewn around tables and passed around.

You see, The Bourne Legacy takes place during the latter part of The Bourne Ultimatum, when Damon’s rogue agent Jason Bourne is wreaking havoc in New York and subsequently damaging the supposedly shadowy existence of all the CIA’s top-secret experimentations, missions, programs, etc. Edward Norton plays the most determined of all the various government honchos brought in to assess the situation – they decide rather quickly to fight the so-called “infection” by killing off all of Bourne’s fellow agents in the field, to avoid any sort of future fiasco like the one they are facing right now. Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross, whom we first see off in the snowy Alaskan wilds in some sort of far-flung training program, is one of those agents slated for automatic extermination.

Rachel Weisz plays government scientist Dr. Martha Shearing, and does so well with a high amount of emotional stress and exhaustion thrown into the mix. After evading his supposed death in Alaska, Cross sneaks away to track her down to find out more about the pills, of which he is quickly running out. (While saving Shearing’s life at the same time, because she was also slated to be wiped out due to her knowledge of the agents.) Which pills, you ask? Cross is dependent on a daily ration of mysterious medication, which make sure his genetically-modified body and mind are kept essentially superior than that of the common grunt.
This is where it becomes evident that The Bourne Legacy is not quite as developed as its predecessors, although still far better than most of our modern action thrillers – whereas Bourne was on a nerve-wracking self-reflective odyssey to find out what in hell happened to him and who he is in reality, all Cross wants in this film is to find more of his darned pills to keep his physical and mental state from rapidly and fatally deteriorating. That works, of course, but it’s a minor and somewhat lazy step below from what we’ve come to expect. There’s no major internal struggles, no deeper undertone – Cross and Shearing are merely wanted fugitives on the run together, and run they do all the way to Manila, in the Philippines. All the way until a moderately unsensational ending that deliberately leaves the story hanging, a very unashamed promise of an upcoming sequel.

Renner gives a exceptionally fine performance in The Bourne Legacy, especially seeing as he smartly distanced himself as far as possible from Matt Damon and any possible comparisons (which would undoubtedly end in favor of Damon). Cross is a different kind of agent than Bourne, knowledgeable of himself and his enhanced prowess, and not particularly shying away from whatever comes attached. Obviously, there was no way that any other way could’ve been pulled off – Cross couldn’t simply be another Bourne, because the audience has by now been educated about all the secret “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar” projects and everything else that the CIA had up their sleeve. No, we needed a hero that was more aggressive, driving, and self-aware than Bourne, and Renner successfully gave one to us.

I should mention The Bourne Legacy‘s biggest fault, that is, the curious dependence on the many action sequences dotted throughout (especially as the film progresses, because the first half is wonderful). They are proudly presented as if they were the crowning jewel of the film, as if they were supposed to be the most satisfying elements of the entire story. I certainly don’t have a problem with the sequences themselves; they are shot with the same high-energy, shaky-cam style that we’ve come to be accustomed to and even love (although the extra-excited editing made it sometimes hard to follow the big picture). But the way that the highly-prominent action set pieces are used, especially the climatic motorcycle chase taking place in the bustling streets of Manila, is disappointing.

The three previous films in the Bourne canon interweaved fantastic action sequences into the story, but they still remained just that, action sequences to spice it up and temporarily leave our jaw hanging – before moving on to the real story developments that gave us, of course, more thrills than all the shots of Matt Damon jumping from building to building could ever give us. With The Bourne Legacy you sit there enthralled and delighted while all the dizzying visual brouhaha unfolds in front of you, as you probably should, because these are the most revved-up satisfying moments you will receive while watching this film. B+

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