Review: The Bourne Legacy
PLOT: Running parallel to the events of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, the agents of a Treadstone shadow program called Outcome- which uses drugs to enhance physical strength and intelligence in it's operatives, find themselves hunted down by the minions of government agent Eric Byer (Edward Norton). One such agent, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) narrowly escapes assassination, and goes on the run with a scientist (Rachel Weisz) working for the program, who's also been targeted.
REVIEW: The dreaded “reboot” word doesn't really belong in any description of THE BOURNE LEGACY. This is a clear-cut sequel- although it just so happens not to feature the titular character, Jason Bourne, as played by the iconic Matt Damon. The fact that the first half of the film coincides with the events of ULTIMATUM (with a few quick scenes being reused or re-staged) kinda makes this a "side-quel" (as people have started calling it), but it's actually not a bad way at all to keep the series going. Series players Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and David Strathairn all show up for what essentially amount to cameos, giving the films a sense of continuity.
The biggest question mark going into this was how a BOURNE film would come across without Damon, and while he's certainly missed (although his Treadstone mugshot pops up now and then), Jeremy Renner is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
The best thing about LEGACY is that director/writer Tony Gilroy (who had a hand in the screenplays for each of the previous installments) avoids making Renner's Aaron Cross too much of a Bourne-clone. The early scenes clearly establish Cross as being a significantly different sort of guy then Bourne. While Damon played up the emotional toil and loneliness of the character, Cross- who doesn't have any amnesia to muck things up, seems far more content with his lot in life. Early scenes, which show him interacting with another agent (played by the ultra-charismatic Oscar Isaac- who's gone too soon) show him to be more talkative, and even playful. This carries over to his relationship with Weisz, with them having a really nice scene where he expresses astonishment at the fact that, despite having been her patient for four years, she doesn't even know his name- but only his patient ID number. Weisz, for her part, mostly fulfills the same kind of part Franka Potente did in the first film, but she's still quite good, and her chemistry with Renner is perfect.
My favourite thing about Cross is that his dependance on drugs to keep him going physically and mentally allow him a little vulnerability- with even some shades of “Flowers for Algernon” working their way into the story later on. But- vulnerable as he is, he's no slouch in the action department. While the first half of the film is rather light on action, there are enough hand-to-hand scraps, chases, and gunfights sprinkled in to keep action fans happy. An extended foot-motorcycle chase in Manilla, while perhaps slightly too remincent of the ULTIMATUM-Tangiers chase, is particularly exciting.
For his part, Gilroy avoids aping Paul Greengrass' style too much. There's an absence of shaky cam, and the fights aren't shot too close, meaning we can actually make out the hand-to-hand scraps. But- at the same time, Greengrass' absence means no jaw-dropping sequences such as the one in ULTIMATUM where the camera follows Damon as he jumps through a window. Greengrass was also followed out the door by franchise composer John Powell, although James Newton Howard contributes a score that closely matches Powell's style- and is very effective in it's own right. Still, the film doesn't suffer too much from the absence of Greengrass (lest we forget it was Doug Liman's first film that got the ball rolling), even if Gilroy's script (co-written with his brother Dan) doesn't veer too much from the formula of the rogue agent being hunted by the government, although there's no conspiracy to unravel this time.
However, it's obvious that Universal is hedging their bets here- both leaving the door open for a possible return to the franchise for Damon, or a continuation with Renner. Edward Norton, as the man guy orchestrating the hunt for Renner, is unique in that he doesn't play the role as a “bad guy”, with his sole scene with Renner (in flashback) giving him a bit about “government sin eaters” that attempts to justify his cold-blooded actions. “What we do is morally reprehensible and absolutely necessary”, he tells Renner in the same scene. It's unique shading to a guy that could have been two-dimensional, and I'm sure there are enough mysteries in his world to be explored in at least one more go-round with Renner.
My only real beef with THE BOURNE LEGACY is that it ends very abruptly. I was a bit surprised once Moby's 'Extreme Ways' kicked in on the soundtrack to signal the film's end, but glancing at my watch, I realized that I'd been sitting in the theatre for well over two hours (it runs 135 minutes- considerably longer than the others). Still, wanting more isn't such a bad problem to have and while I'd like to see Damon come back at some point, I'd be fine with seeing more of Renner- who's proving himself to be an ace leading man in his own right.