Film Review – The Bourne Legacy
I was skeptical about the idea of a Jason Bourne franchise film without Jason Bourne. Franchises have changed the lead character before, usually with subpar results (Teen Wolf Too, The Next Karate Kid, Evan Almighty). My skepticism wasn’t necessarily any reflection on Jeremy Renner as an actor, but more of a curiosity as to whether Hollywood was attempting to just cash in on an existing franchise instead of using the energy necessary to create a new one. Ultimately, I’m still not completely sold, but I will give them points for creativity.
The Bourne Legacy takes place concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum, as Jason Bourne is revealing the secrets of his program. Feeling cornered, agent Eric Byer (Edward Norton) feels the only way to manage the damage is to completely destroy any records of existing programs, including the elimination of any agents therein. Unfortunately, this includes Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a “generation two” version from the same program that created Jason Bourne.
The Bourne history is a bit convoluted. The series’ original author, Robert Ludlum, was responsible for writing the first three books, which provided inspiration for the movies. Since Ludlum’s death in 2001, Eric Van Lustbader has written another seven books following Jason Bourne, including The Bourne Legacy. Despite sharing the title with the movie, the two works are totally different, as the book is another standard Jason Bourne adventure. The element of continuity that keeps everything consistent in the films is writer Tony Gilroy, who takes on directing duties for the first time here. Though Gilroy’s filmography as a director is very short, it does include the wonderful Michael Clayton, and he does a solid job here. In a bizarre way, this new film reminded me of Inglourious Basterds, with repeated scenes of extended dialogue before transitioning to something more action-driven that ultimately culminates in one massive action sequence. Gilroy’s dialogue isn’t quite as quippy as Tarantino’s, but he does a good job of building to a boil.
The rise of Jeremy Renner’s star power over the last few years has been exciting to watch, especially over the last year, where he has played a key role in two films that have grossed over $650 million worldwide (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers). I like Renner; I think he is a good action star, and I think he is fun in this film. But if I had to bet on one franchise character for him going forward, I would pick Hawkeye. I would hate to see Renner get locked into so many action franchises that it takes away his opportunities to be in more character-driven movies. Let’s not forget that he is a talented actor with multiple Academy Award nominations (The Hurt Locker, The Town).
While the character of Aaron Cross is engaging, there isn’t that element of mystery that made the first trilogy so fun, and this film is largely straightforward in its course of action. My main problem with it is that there really aren’t any direct confrontations between the protagonist and antagonists. It is a weird parallel dynamic in which you watch Renner kick ass and then cut to the antagonists strategizing accordingly. One of the things I like best about the other Bourne movies is the element of cat-and-mouse that makes them so exciting, which is missing here.
It is fun to see Rachel Weisz back in an action movie; despite the fact that she achieved her stardom in the U.S. with the Mummy franchise, she really hasn’t done a lot of action since then. She does a great job of balancing vulnerability and strength. However, her character does feel a bit too much like Franka Potente’s in the original trilogy, as resourceful love interest. Still, she is much more hands on in the action, which is good, since that means she is more equipped to take care of herself.
In terms of action, I found the film to be fairly solid. There is a lot less hand-to-hand combat than we’ve come to expect from the previous films, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. The film does capitalize on the franchise’s success in chase sequences with a couple of pretty solid ones of its own; unfortunately, it also utilizes quite a bit of handycam action, which, when paired with quick cuts, can be a little dizzying at times. I’m not completely sold on Gilroy as an action director yet, but that is more of an issue with execution than concept, and I think he deserves more opportunities to learn and grow.
Clearly this isn’t the end of the Bourne franchise. In the previous iterations, it felt like they created self-contained stories that were pieces of a bigger puzzle; this time around they don’t just hint that there is more to come—it is a blatant set-up for the next film. I’m hoping for a Jason Bourne/Aaron Cross crossover, and I don’t believe that is just wishful thinking. To me, the Bourne franchise will always be Matt Damon’s…but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to a spinoff with Jeremy Renner, who can hold his own. The Bourne Legacy is fun, but much lighter fare than the past entries in the series; if the filmmakers weren’t so dependent on following up on the previous entries, maybe Aaron Cross could become a household name like Jason Bourne.
Final Grade: B