The Bourne Legacy: A Review

The Bourne Legacy – Dir: Tony Gilroy; *ing: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton

A.k.a. The Bourne Lethargy: The One Without Matt Damon

It’s convenient to assume that yet another entry in a mega-successful movie franchise simply must be a cynical bid to further milk that cash-cow, especially when you know that the original star of the cinematic bovine in question couldn’t be persuaded to suit up again despite a bazillion dollar carrot being dangled in front of him. Perhaps that assumption is just as cynical though; after all, creating a big budget, multi-location, high-octane addition to a brainy action series beloved by both critics and audiences is no easy task and certainly not one that can be treated as a throwaway without inviting a fairly rabid backlash.  And so the minds behind this sequel (of sorts) to the Bourne films surely must’ve known they were taking a risk dealing with a modern film behemoth when they dreamt up Legacy, and ended up having to realize it without Jason himself – Matt Damon. It was a pretty sizable gamble, but did it pay off? Well, yes and no, with emphasis on the no.

Firstly, Legacy is not so much a follow-up to the Bourne films as it is a companion piece. Its plot runs roughly concurrent to the events of the trilogy, and while that in itself is not a bad thing, the constant allusions to the other films does bring up ultimately less-than-favourable comparisons, especially when the rather subdued ending sets up (somewhat clumsily) the premise for a sequel which doubtless will follow.  Secondly, by reiterating the revelation that Bourne was not in fact an anomaly but just one of a number of genetically enhanced spies in the shady, secretive government ‘Program’, the film detracts from the psychological gravitas of both Bourne and Aaron Cross (Renner) the spy left out in the cold by his bosses, who is at the heart of this particular tale. After The Program, run by ruthless head (aren’t they always?) Eric Byer (Norton), is jettisoned due to hastily explained circumstances, Cross, as well as his counterparts, are targeted for immediate and lethal termination. But Cross outsmarts the drone sent to take him out and sets off to alter his chemical dependency on the meds The Program has him on to make him better, faster, stronger. No, not to wean himself off them, but instead to be ‘locked in’ – the result of the new, untried formula that’ll make the effects of the pills permanent without having to actually take any again, a plan for the fruition of which he teams up with chemical scientist Marta Shearing (Weisz), another remnant of The Program who has escaped termination. To do this, they must make their way to Manila where the pills are manufactured, while still dodging the murderous intents of their former masters who cannot afford to leave any loose ends.

The problem with Legacy is not the obvious lack of Damon-esque awesomeness; Renner is in fact, as he proved similarly in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a worthy central figure/star successor, bringing to the film the same charismatic intensity that first got him noticed in The Hurt Locker two years ago. Norton and Weisz too, are wonderful supporting players, especially the latter in a role that is a rarity in testosterone-fueled flicks – a smart, gutsy woman who’s given sufficient screen time without turning her into mere eye-candy. Other than the actors though, Legacy just can’t seem to find its footing; the tone is inconsistent, the pacing erratic, the plot lightweight, and the action set-pieces competent at best. The final motorcycle chase, in particular, simply doesn’t bring the kind of heart-stopping thrills that a climactic action sequence is supposed to – it’s been done better in Tomorrow Never Dies. And the end, which follows soon after, is too abrupt, too damp a squib, even though it’s obvious that it’s actually a prologue for a sequel rather than an epilogue to the movie itself. So perhaps what’s missing from this picture isn’t so much Damon as the star, but a more assured, experienced, gritty-action director’s touch like that of Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman, which Tony Gilroy doesn’t quite demonstrate here.

Cult: The Bourne Identity (2002) – Go to back to the very first one, just to remind yourselves what an (intelligent) adrenaline rush of an opening salvo Liman launched.

Current: The Dark Knight Rises – Director Christopher Nolan’s swansong to his Batman trilogy is strong stuff, if not quite as awe-inspiring as 2008’s The Dark Knight.

Coming Attraction: Captain Phillips (2013) – Greengrass helms this account of Captain Richard Phillips and the crew of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama as their vessel is hijacked by Somali pirates.

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