Bourne Legacy, The (United States, 2012)

August 10, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Bourne Legacy, The Poster

The total worldwide box office gross for the first three Jason Bourne movies (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) is nearly one billion dollars (more if adjusted for inflation). With that kind of money in play, was there any chance that Universal Pictures would not bankroll a fourth Bourne movie? Even when neither director Paul Greengrass nor star Matt Damon showed much interest? (In fact, Greengrass once jokingly referred to a fourth movie as The Bourne Redundancy.) Changing leads is nothing new in cinema. It has been done most successfully with the James Bond franchise, but there are plenty of other examples. Perhaps that should have been the template used here. However, instead of having Jeremy Renner step into the role of Jason Bourne, the filmmakers have given him another character in the same universe. The problem is, viewers are invested in Bourne and not seeing him in a movie that bears his name feels like a cheat. Hearing him mentioned every ten minutes and never seeing him (except in still photographs) is a recipe for disappointed expectations. To really work, The Bourne Legacy either needed to turn the title character into a 007-type who can change his face or bring back Damon in some capacity, even if just for a cameo. Neither happens and that works to the movie's detriment.

The Bourne Legacy is one of Alfred Hitchcock's "refrigerator movies," in that it succeeds pretty well "in the moment" but starts to fall apart when considered in retrospect. It's not hard to become caught up in the action as its going on, but the story does a lot of straining, at times threatening to rip at the seams. At least those who despaired of Paul Greengrass' shaky-cam style (a major drawback of The Bourne Ultimatum) can be comforted to know that Tony Gilroy possesses a tripod and knows how to use it.

For Jeremy Renner, taking over the franchise (at least for one installment) is a thankless duty. It remains to be seen whether he'll be Bourne's answer to George Lazenby or Roger Moore. Will Damon be back for the fifth Bourne? Will Renner return? Will they be teamed up? Time and money will provide the answers. For now, Renner is the lead man and he is better than adequate in the part. His character is a cross between the one he played in The Hurt Locker and his introduction to another action/thriller series, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Renner has the chops for the part but I harbor qualms about where the script chooses to take the character. He is teamed with Rachel Weisz, and the match works almost as well as the one between Damon and Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity. In fact, that pairing may have been used as the basis for this one. Weisz gives a strong performance and easily ascends to a higher level than the standard type of "female love interest/sidekick."

The Bourne Legacy provides more of the same: rogue super-agent is pursued by government types who need to eliminate him to cover up their misdeeds and secrets. The recipe worked well enough in the three previous outings; why not repeat it here? Renner plays Aaron Cross, an agent of The Program who's in Alaska on a training exercise when Bourne's shit storm from The Bourne Ultimatum hits the fan. In deep CYA mode, two of the key overseers of The Program, Admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) and Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton), decide burn it to the ground, killing all the agents and the scientists who worked on it. Cross escapes instant death through a combination of sharp shooting and misdirection. Then, when everyone believes him to have been eliminated, he returns to the Lower 48. He needs a refill on his meds, and he can't get it at the local CVS. The blue pill/green pill combo he takes daily gives him abnormal strength, agility, intelligence, and pain resistance - but he's out. Unfortunately, the scientists who have developed the medicine have been targeted for extermination. The only survivor of a workplace massacre, Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz), has a short life expectancy.

At 135 minutes, The Bourne Legacy seems about twice as long as it needs to be. There are really only three major action sequences (one in Alaska, one on the East Coast of the United States, and one in Manila). On none of these occasions is the inventiveness and energy evident in the fourth Mission: Impossible movie to be found. The long final action set piece, which lasts about 15 minutes and criss-crosses the traffic-clogged streets of the Philippine capitol, exceeds the recommended time limit. Gilroy fails to keep the tension level high for the duration and there are instances in which it becomes repetitive. It's essentially one long chase that begins on foot and ends on motorcycles but, aside from the location, it falls into the generic category. The most suspenseful sequences are those that switch between Cross and Shearing as they attempt to stay ahead of their pursuers and Byer as he uses cutting-edge technology to locate them. The movie could have benefitted from more of these high-stakes/high-tech chess games. The surfeit of exposition, which includes a long scene in which Shearing explains in excruciating detail to Cross what the medication does to him, occasionally threatens to drag the proceedings to a halt.

The Bourne Legacy proves unable to stand on its own. The Damon trilogy is required viewing to understand the context; some of what transpires will be confusing for those not familiar with terms such as "Treadstone" and "Blackbriar." Actors who had major roles in the earlier movies return for cameos. Poor Paddy Considine is especially ill-treated, getting even ruder treatment than Franka Potente did in The Bourne Supremacy. And, although The Bourne Legacy can boast an ending of sorts, the final scene (and, to an extent, the entire movie) exists as a set-up for Bourne 5. Maybe this production will look better when viewed from a distance of 10 or 20 years but, at the moment, it appears like an overlong bridge to nowhere.

Bourne Legacy, The (United States, 2012)

Director: Tony Gilroy
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Stacy Keach, Edward Norton, Donna Murphy
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Music: James Newton Howard
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 2:15
U.S. Release Date: 2012-08-10
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1