Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy

Re-Bourne?  Bourne Again?  Natural Bourne Thriller?  Bourne Free?  How many crappy puns can you think of with Bourne in the title?  Was one of them Bourne to be…Mild? 

When star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass decided not to do a fourth Bourne movie that could’ve (should’ve?) been the end of it.  After all, how many more times could Matt Damon wander through a film saying “I don’t remember,” with a blank look on his face while snapping baddies’ necks?  Also, after using pencils, magazines and books in the last couple of films, they were running out of ordinary, harmless, household objects for Damon to kill people with.  What would’ve been next?  The contents of a Kinder egg?  Anxious to keep their lucrative franchise alive however, Universal tasked writer Tony Gilroy with retooling the series.  Rather than simply recast the role (a la Bond), they’ve decided to hedge their bets and The Bourne Legacy introduces a new hero, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), draws on the events of the previous films, weaving strands of The Bourne Ultimatum through the narrative while leaving the door open for Damon to return in possible future installments.  It’s a bold gamble that almost pays off. 

As Jason Bourne fights for his freedom and his memory in a parallel world, creating a media stink and exposing the CIA’s dodgy dealings, shadowy government spooks Eric Byer (Edward Norton) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) start covering up the even more super-secret programmes the people can’t know about, tying up loose ends and destroying evidence – by eliminating all the participants!  When pill-popping, chemically enhanced super spy/assassin Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) escapes the creative death they’ve arranged for him, he’s forced to join forces with fellow target Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who can get him the superdrugs he needs to keep him alive.  Cue lots of snappy neck fight scenes, frantic chases and some globetrotting as Cross and Shearing try to stay alive and figure out what the hell is going on?

With its corkscrew-twisty plot and furious action scenes, on paper The Bourne Legacy has all the ingredients that made the other films in the franchise such superior action-thrillers except one: it lacks heart.  Without Damon the film is soulless.  Renner is a fantastic actor and brings a warmth and laconic cool to his role but Cross lacks ambiguity and is a little too simple (literally) a character to fully engage with.  Damon’s Bourne was a man in search of himself, trying to live with and atone for past sins.  The chemically enhanced Cross on the other hand is just worried that without the smart pills he’s been taking he’ll revert to being the stoopid cannon fodder grunt he was before he joined the programme and became superman.  He’s Charly with the ability to kick your arse.  Similarly, Rachel Weisz just isn’t as sympathetic a heroine as Franka Potente and Julia Stiles were in the previous films.  Potente’s Marie was an innocent caught up in events; collateral damage.  Stiles’ Nicky was a low-level spook in over her head.  Weisz’s Shearer is a scientist knowingly involved in experimenting on human beings to create an army of super-assassins.  She’s basically Dr Mengele with a nice rack.  These aren’t characters seeking to redeem themselves or expose wrongdoing; they’re just trying to stay alive and, frankly, we’ve come to expect more from the Bourne movies.  Also, I’m no scientist like Rachel Weisz (and obviously neither is Tony Gilroy) but creating supermen through chromosome alteration? Really?  That’s what we’re going with?

Shorn of Greengrass’ sociopolitical agenda and kinetic sensibility, The Bourne Legacy feels plodding.  It’s fun, the breathless action scenes are intense but it does drag a bit and it’s impossible to shake the feeling of déjà vu.  There’s only so many terse conversations between stern spooks in wood-paneled offices you can watch before they all blend into one and that climactic chase across the rooftops of Manila feels awfully like Ultimatum’s chase across the rooftops of Tangier.  Just not as exciting.  At 2 hours and 15 minutes it‘s at least 20 minutes too long and lacks the urgency of the previous entries.  It also lacks an ending.  Nothing is resolved.  The film simply stops dead, leaving the way open for a sequel.

Writer/director Gilroy has said that he approached this sequel as a math problem and there lies the problem.  The film feels like it was assembled, precision tooled to go from A to B, to bridge the gap from The Bourne Ultimatum to future installments.  When grey backroom baddie Edward Norton tells Cross “We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary,” you can’t help but wonder if he’s talking about the shadowy Outcome programme or the film itself.  The Bourne Legacy is a necessary evil.

David Watson
Directed by:
Written by:
Produced by:
2 hours 15 minutes
UK Release Date:
13th August 2012

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