By now it’s fairly common knowledge that 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” is the king among 21st century action-cinema. But when people flocked to it, they flocked for the kinetic action sequences, for the technical mastery displayed by director Paul Greengrass, and, obviously, for Matt Damon in the role of his lifetime as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac spy on the run.
If there was a caveat to the overall picture, it was all the overly convoluted conspiracy-talk spouted off by the corrupt CIA officers pursuing Bourne. Endless babble about spy programs and assassin programs and parallel programs serving both functions: it was an overload of information, in the end, meaning nothing. “The Bourne Legacy”, completely misinterpreting what made its predecessors click, (“Supremacy” and “Ultimatum” at least) piles on all the exposition. All the convolution. All the confusion. It’s a film so entangled in its own mechanisms, it forgets to check for a heart. Or, really, a point.
The non-return of Matt Damon, or rather, Jason Bourne, is a big deal. This much has been well-discussed, both in the press and by the creative team behind “Legacy”, led by writer-director Tony Gilroy. But it was never a major strike against the potential quality of the thing, and if there is one thing to be said for “Legacy”, it’s that the main character is a radical departure from Jason Bourne.
“Legacy”‘s new protagonist, Aaron Cross, is a government-enhanced assassin, just like Bourne. But where Bourne was a dead-serious man, struggling in a search for his identity, Cross is a more friendly, open sort, but one who is scrambling to get ahold of the ‘chems’ he’s been dependent on for years — in essence, the pills that greatly increase his physical stamina and his intelligence. Problem is, because of Jason Bourne’s exploits in the original trilogy, blowing the lid publicly on top-secret assassin programs, the CIA wants everything burned to the ground. Unfortunately for Cross, this means his employers want him dead.
Jeremy Renner, playing Cross, is as exceptional as his blessed career has led one to expect. He strikes a perfect mix of physical intensity, charm, and mental capability. If there’s anything to be felt at all in this film, it’s rooting for his survival. Unfortunately, that’s not always the easiest thing to root for, considering that he spends the entire film killing men and wreaking havoc so that he can get his hands on a couple of pills.
As for the rest of the considerably talented ensemble? Squandered, mostly. Rachel Weisz plays a genius/potential love-interest that Cross recruits to help pursue his ‘chem’ fix. Apart from a central, chilling set-piece in which a co-worker guns down Weisz’s peers in front of her, the Oscar winner doesn’t get to flex the sort of dramatic muscles that one would hope. The great, insane Edward Norton is also reduced to a pencil-pushing role as a government dweeb forced to hunt Cross when he goes on the run. In addition, various veterans of the franchise (David Straithairn, Joan Allen, Albert Finney) all make welcome returns. It’s a pity their role lengths don’t exceed five minutes, and that when they’re on-screen, it’s spouting more superfluous information.
There’s a motorcycle chase towards the end of “The Bourne Legacy” between the protagonists and an unnamed villain, that neatly summarizes all the bones I have to pick with the film. Setting aside the awkward staging and odd editing choices, it’s an unimaginative concept (Drive here! Shoot there! Dodge that!) that seems to rage on, and on, until it eventually becomes the first chase scene in recent memory where I actually glanced at my watch. While director Tony Gilroy has created amazing things in the past, primarily the George Clooney legal-thriller “Michael Clayton”, he seems to believe that, as with “Clayton”, the more information delivered, the higher the intensity.
The result is a slickly made, technically capable film that doesn’t know when to shut up — talking itself into a corner to the point that when breaks of action sequences arrive, it’s too late to be engaged. This was not a franchise that should have been “Bourne” again. (hahahahahahah) C-