For all the slagging off for the constant reboots and sequels at the cinema nowadays (seriously, watch one of those M&M preview/interview shots before most films at cinemas and try not to be depressed at the ticker below it), there are one or two that are actually exciting,, but what movie fans don’t appreciate is being mislead with a fancy new sequel and it turning out to be something different. Step forward, the Jason Bourne-less, fourth film in this franchise, The Bourne Legacy…
Set against the backdrop of Bourne Ultimatum, trainee/rookie CIA agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, Avengers Assemble) is part of Operation Outcome, a secret United States drug enhanced black ops training group. When Jason Bourne leaks news of the Blackbriar and Treadstone programs to the public, Eric Byer (Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom), the supervisor of the CIA’s clandestine operations, orders a whitewash of other groups (including Outcome). So after barely surviving a rocket attack on an Alaskan exercise, Cross returns to the mainland U.S. to find one of his former medics, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner), in order to keep his drug addiction and enhancements going, before the two escape on a globe-trekking adventure, trying to save Cross from his addiction, with the CIA in tow.
The early scenes with him in a remote Alaskan cabin with another agent are filled with genuine enthusiasm as Cross has never met another “teammate” before, and the first thing you’ll notice about the cast is how simply wonderful Renner is in Bourne Legacy; taking over the boots of Matt Damon’s titular Bourne franchise is mighty hard, but Renner takes the ball and runs with it in a highly watchable role, differentiating himself a lot; he’s both more natural, and believable in his performance as a secret agent/spy. Thumbs up for Renner.
Norton’s not to be outdone however; as whilst nothing special, what works about Norton’s performance is how he captures the right level of villainy (if that) for the role; it’s not the over-the-top evil you expect in spy films like James Bond, as Byer is just a man who’s been charged with cleaning up the Treadstone/Bourne mess, and he’s just on a mission to get it done. No matter what. For his country. It’s simple logic, and it makes sense in context, all brought out by an ace actor in Norton.
What’s not too hot is the showing from Rachel Weisz; now Weisz is a good actress and it was interesting to see what she would do here, but it’s disappointing; she’s kept down as a footnote for most of the film (without doing anything major until the last reel is rolling) and is little more than a massive luggage case to be carried thoughout the film. Her accent is irritating a well, and it’s a personal bugbear when the male and female leads have to get together at some point when they have little in common or a small amount of time to develop a bond. Below par role from the usually talented Weisz.
Director Tony Gilroy has been promoted from the writing staff of the previous Bournes and his critically acclaimed work directing Michael Clayton. Here he captures most of the film, barring the action scenes, very well; he encapsulates the rough beauty of the Alaskan wilderness in the beginning, makes dingy CIA “war rooms” enclosed, dark and anger encapsulating (how they should be). The whole film is neatly shot and appropriate, and Gilroy was a worthy step up after Paul Greengrass’ departure.
But if you’re expecting a lot of Jason Bourne references, you may be disappointed; they’re there with the backdrop of Bourne’s exposure from Bourne Ultimatum, but they’re kept to a minimum; admittedly the mini crossovers with Bourne 3 were cool, and set the slightly muddled timeline straight (weren’t Bournes 2 and 3 taking place at the same time also?), but this is a film designed to promote Cross’ story, so fairplay for keeping it on the lowdown (even adding some unintentional humour when Byer pretty much breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience “this isn’t about Jason Bourne!”).
However, the biggest problem with Legacy is that there’s chuff all to do with the original Bourne trilogy here; whilst the advertising materials haven’t suggested the connections to Bourne would be massive, you’d expect more with them using the Bourne name like this; saying Cross was part of Blackbriar, Treadstone, or some other program related to Jason Bourne would be fine, but here the connection and awareness of each other is pretty much “oh he’s the guy from the next flat over”, and they never meet. Whilst the idea of the fallout of what Bourne has done and how the Government react is legitimately interesting, and what everyone wanted to see from this sidequel, the final story here isn’t what was expected, and comes as a minor let-down.
Legacy suffers from being compared to it’s predecessors; as aside from the very strong training in the wilderness trip, the drug enhancement idea is bloody ridiculous; adding an addiction to super-human creating drugs in the reasonably feasible Bourneiverse (where the emphasis is on realism) is stupid. The amount of techno science babble garbage about this was impenetrable in places and enough to make you sigh out loud. The first three Bourne films were excellent spy/action films, and Legacy throws in this sci-fi element to take it a step too far out of reasonability. There’s too much reliance to go back to what’s happened before and just apply it to Aaron Cross; which leads to the ending becoming incredibly similar to one of the earlier Bournes, and the nods to previous scenes (like the movie starting off with Cross motionless underwater) doesn’t help to differentiate it from the original trilogy.
The same old problems from earlier Bourne episodes also keep cropping up; sickening as it is, the confusing, up-close, action and fight scenes keep occurring in a blur of movements when they could be fantastic water cooler moments, but instead the camera style will leave you bored, and not interested in raving about how someone gets squashed Super Mario Brothers style with a sliding double foot stomp. There was an amazingly tense scene where Shearing is about to be executed by some government types, before Cross jumps in and it’s time for fluster-vision (don your exclusive fluster glasses available at the foyer!), and that’s just one example of some of the really interesting action scenes that get shaken away from your vision, almost as if they don’t want you to see it, and continued to the point of self-parody.
In the end, Bourne Legacy just about earns a thumbs up; it’s probably not worth watching again, but there’s enough to come away from this with a good impression; thanks to Jeremy Renner. However, if they’re going to continue the Bourne franchise, there needs to be heavy surgery for a sense of perception, and the removal of the fluster-vision disease, before allowing it to take to the field again.