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Film Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The Bourne film series revitalized the spy genre with a 21st century update.  The Matt Damon-led trilogy was not entirely groundbreaking but it thrillingly rejuvenated the spy film with gritty, intense action, an intriguing premise, and solid performances.  Despite losing the titular star and first two directors Doug Liman (Identity) and Paul Greengass (Supremacy, Ultimatum), the Bourne franchise continues with The Bourne Legacy, directed by series co-writer Tony Gilroy.  It is neither a straight-up sequel nor a fresh reboot.  Rather, it is a “side-quel” in which the plot takes place parallel to The Bourne Ultimatum and shortly thereafter.  Several supporting characters return for continuity-sake, but only in cameos (of which, Damon is absent so do not expect an appearance from him or risk being disappointed).  Jeremy Renner admirably takes over the lead as Aaron Cross, but the story and film around him is a bit of a letdown.

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The Bourne Legacy features moments of greatness that made its predecessors awesome or engaging, but it suffers from the redundancy factor of a series limping on after its initial three-act trilogy.  Also, for a franchise’s success that is based on thrilling action, this installment has a lack of it for the most part.  Instead, it has a stop-and-go pace with an overlong climax and abrupt ending that cheapens what came before it (including the resolution of the previous film), as the conclusion amounts to little more than a bridge to possible sequels; and when the future of the franchise is uncertain, this makes the film feel somewhat inconsequential and unresolved in an unsatisfying manner – that is unless the studio wants this to be part of a new trilogy, but no confirmation of that makes this seem more like a cash-grab than the story needing to be told.  Nonetheless, it is still a decent, fairly exciting action movie with quality performances and more of a brain than most summer blockbusters, but The Bourne Legacy is the weakest, most inconsistent effort of the series.

This is not a standalone film – the first three movies are basically required viewings going into this one.  If names like Treadstone, Blackbriar, Pamela Landy, and even Jason Bourne mean nothing to you, then you are liable to be lost throughout much of these proceedings.  The story spends little time explaining past events, some of which happen simultaneously with this film’s plot.  It is concerned with establishing the new set of characters in the Bourne universe and their plights.  Yet, it still contains several scenes that deal with the direct aftermath of Ultimatum and its characters as well as references to the Program’s training without delving into it like the first three did, so those parts might be confusing for newcomers.  Nonetheless, The Bourne Legacy has just enough story and action of its own to absorb new viewers and bring back fans.

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In this installment, Jason Bourne is absent, only referenced by name throughout and in a still photograph.  Aaron Cross, a sort of super soldier/assassin from another shady government program called “Outcome,” is the main character in this one.  Unlike Bourne, he has no memory issue and seems to enjoy his line of work or at least take pride in it and his abilities.  However, the film opens with him on a training assignment in Alaska, which occurs simultaneously with Bourne’s “visit” to New York and subsequent whistleblowing.

As a result of Bourne’s actions, retired admiral Mark Turso and retired colonel Eric Byer decide to “burn the program to the ground” before it or any other agents and employees decide to “move sideways” on them, meaning help expose the illegality of it all.  Byer orders all of the highly skilled assets to be killed, but Cross survives the assault.  His desire is to get more “chems” or intelligence/physical ability enhancing drugs before he runs out, at which point he will “crash” or possibly die.  To do so, he must travel back to the U.S. and team up with program Dr. Marta Shearing, who often treated him over the past five years – that is, if she herself survives Byer’s intent to erase everyone involved with the program.  In short, the film is a struggle of Cross and Shearing escaping high-level government officials trying to expunge most program assets and employees, with bits of direct ties back to the original trilogy’s characters and events.

Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz in The Bourne Legacy 2012 Movie Image 5 600x387 Film Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Action-wise, The Bourne Legacy may not be as taut and packed as some of its predecessors, but it still knows how to deliver hard-hitting blows.  Hand-to-hand fight scenes elicited several ooo’s and ah’s from the audience as the trademark Bourne-like bone-crunching fistfights make a decent return here.  Also, the film certainly does not lack the series’ typical glut of chase sequences, including a pulse pounding, albeit overlong, foot and motorcycle chase in Manilla.  But for all the hectic, loud action, perhaps the most effectively thrilling and harrowing scene is the one where Dr. Donald Foite (played by the usually creepy Zeljko Ivanek) calmly shoots up his laboratory coworkers.  Still, the action and overall film benefits from its new lead Jeremy Renner, now a veritable star after The Hurt Locker, Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers, who once again proves he is a compelling leading actor capable of both the emotional and physical tolls of whatever role he takes on.  His fight scenes are convincing and his charming humanity and wit shines through, similar to Bourne but more so (though few will deny Damon is the better lead; he is face of the franchise for a reason).

Fortunately, the studio enlisted a few other great actors and solid character actors to support Renner and embark on this new story.  Rachel Weisz may not be a household name yet despite her star power and Oscar-winning talents, but having her play Dr. Marta Shearing definitely helps the film.  She brings convincing vulnerability to the character and her chemistry with Renner is readily apparent.  Edward Norton is a great actor but his career has hit a bit of a plateau, to say the least, over the past few years.  His performance here as retired colonel Eric Byer, though, is very solid and a nice replacement for the Noah Vosen type character (played by David Strathairn).  This film also marks an interesting little reunion for Norton with his American History X (1998) colleague Stacy Keach, who plays retired admiral Mark Turso (and frankly does not have a ton to do but he does it effectively).  Several Bourne series veterans make short cameo appearances to tie up a few bits from the last film and offer continuity and legitimacy to the new installment to the franchise, including Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Scott Glenn.  Other notable names include Corey Stoll as a program official Zev Vendel and Oscar Isaac in a way too short of a role as Outcome agent number 3.

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Technically, the new movie is pretty consistent with its predecessors.  The major difference and actual improvement over them is Robert Elswitt’s sure-handed cinematography, pun intended – this installment has much less shaky-cam than the previous ones.  Still, the fighting can be rough and chaotic but it is at least comprehensible, for the most part.  James Newton Howard takes over the composer role from John Powell, though Howard maintains a fairly consistent musical method with similar themes and exciting sounds.

As far as the story goes, though, series screenwriter Tony Gilroy, now directing the film as well, misses the mark slightly.  The plot is not as

tight and tense as the others in the series, with sequences that dull the pace, such as the almost excruciating exposition scene detailing the science behind Outcome.  Also, Former Bourne director Paul Greengrass called this installment the “Bourne Redundancy,” which is a fairly suitable description for this film.  What Bourne did in the conclusion of Ultimatum seems undone in this film, perhaps to carry on the franchise as a money-maker.  This is not to say the story is simply a rehash of the first three, but it does not break enough new ground to seem like an improvement, as all sequels should strive to be but few achieve.  Furthermore, with such an abrupt ending as the one in this installment, the plot seems to amount to nothing – little has changed in the grand scheme of things; only the lives of certain characters have changed, at least momentarily.  When Moby’s remixed version of “Extreme Ways” kicks in, signaling the end of the film, many viewers will scratch their heads as to why the movie is over.

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Yet, the studio clearly does not what the franchise to be done.  Besides, with author Robert Ludlum’s works still receiving sequels, this is liable to become a counterpart to the Bond series, which the studio certainly would hope to achieve.  So, while The Bourne Legacy is not as strong as the original trilogy, it is still a decent, well-acted action film with some intelligence over most of its summer counterparts.  It is worth seeing in theaters for franchise fans and action gurus, but perhaps only as a matinee; otherwise, this is a solid and suitable rental choice.

The Bourne Legacy – 7/10

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