Monday, December 24, 2012

The Bourne Legacy Movie Review

Tony Gilroy, so desperate along with Universal Studios, to continue the cash cow of the Jason Bourne film series that he personally crafted and adapted from books to films, went ahead with a fourth film even after Matt Damon, the series’ eponymous hero, bowed out. How can you have a Bourne film without Bourne? They could have decided to make it something like the Bond series, replacing the actor periodically as they age out of the role, providing the character contemporary problems to confront. But then it would have run the risk of copycat syndrome, I guess. So instead Gilroy, with the help of his brother Dan, decided with The Bourne Legacy to keep it all in the same universe, but provide a new protagonist in Aaron Cross, a super-assassin involved in a program similar to the Treadstone project that created Bourne. It’s an expansion of the Robert Ludlum series of books, taking the title, but nothing of the story, from the fourth book, which wasn’t even written by Ludlum. Confused? It doesn’t matter because The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum had already deviated far from Ludlum’s novels.

Jeremy Renner is craftily molding himself into the Hollywood action hero Everyman with recurring roles as Hawkeye in The Avengers, a possible franchise opportunity as the new hero of Mission:Impossible, and now as Cross in the Bourne series. He’s got the physicality for these sorts of roles, but he’s also got the acting chops that I hope this doesn’t become the majority of his career during his prime acting years. Edward Norton comes on board as Eric Byer, the bureaucrat controlling everything from a central command center. He’s essentially Cross’s adversary, along with another bureaucrat played by Stacy Keach, although they share no screen time with Renner apart from a brief and unnecessary flashback showing that Byer and Cross once met on a military mission. This idea of the antagonist who never meets the hero face-to-face has been a hallmark of the series. Cross has to face down unmanned drone attacks and deadly assassins, but these are the mere tools of the real foe – the government bureaucracies that use and abuse these men in order to achieve some larger global end.

I think it would be helpful to refresh yourself on the earlier films, especially The Bourne Ultimatum, to follow the early minutes of The Bourne Legacy. The plot has connections to the events of that film and I even think some of the events are simultaneous. There are character overlays (Scott Glenn, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine, and Joan Allen all have brief appearances as their characters in the earlier films) and rapid-fire dialogue referencing information we are supposed to know from Ultimatum regarding Treadstone and Blackbriar, the government programs to create world traveling assassins. The new program of which Cross is the latest participant/victim is called Outcome. It involves chemically altering the assassins’ genetic makeup to improve both their physical and cognitive abilities. The science here is glossed over, but enough information is provided that I was convinced that these things could, theoretically, be possible. However, certain elements of the plot, depending on chemical brainwashing and behavior modification I found to be out of the world of comic books rather than the grounded reality that the Bourne series is meant to take place in. Rachel Weisz plays a researcher who works in the lab testing this stuff out. I won’t get into the details of how and why, but she ends up in tow trotting around the globe and on the run with Cross.

Gilroy also directed the film. Deft screenwriter though he may be, his touch as an action director needs some serious work. The film culminates, as most modern action movies do, in an extended and interminable chase sequence involving motorcycles at high speed, crowded Filipino markets, and death-defying stunts. Gilroy and film editor John Gilroy (Tony’s other brother) don’t seem to understand that there is a formal way to cut together a coherent action sequence. The shots don’t match, the cuts constantly cross the line, the flow of action moves in multiple directions across the screen. Watching it and trying to follow who is in what vehicle and what is going on turned out to be an exercise in dizzying futility. The series is severely wanting for the team of Paul Greengrass, with his crisp directorial style, and editor Christopher Rouse.

The screenwriting brothers Gilroy miss some big opportunities to turn the film toward interesting and exploratory philosophy regarding the government’s use of expendable human beings to do its dirty work. Also, the Weisz character’s na├»ve involvement in an experimental process to alter a person’s DNA is given short shrift. Only very briefly does Cross question her judgment in going along with a program without questioning the effects of her work because she got to do the research that so energized her as a scientist. There are interesting questions being asked her involving what we, as people with aspirations, are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve our personal goals. But the Gilroys don’t afford it any real thought and instead leap right into the next confounding action sequence. Stick with the Matt Damon films.

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