[Review] – The Bourne Legacy

11 Sep

Title: The Bourne Legacy
Year: 2012
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy, with a story by Tony Gilroy, based on the series of novels by Robert Ludlum
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Oscar Isaac, Stacy Keach, Zeljko Ivanek, Corey Stoll
MPAA Rating: PG-13, violence and action sequences
Runtime: 135 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%
Metacritic: 61

I’m a big fan of the Bourne series. I saw Doug Liman‘s first film, The Bourne Identity, and absolutely loved it, it pretty much reinvented in a way what the spy action genre could be because of how damn smart it was, how much it catered to thinking adults and not to people who just wanted stuff to blow up. It also, of course, cemented the status of Matt Damon as a bankable Hollywood leading man. From that point I went back and read Robert Ludlum‘s book trilogy, since it was evident that the film franchise would be a trilogy as well after the success of the first entry in it and because my dad was always telling me I should read those books (he read them when he was younger and also loved that first film).

For the next two films, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, it was Paul Greengrass on the director’s chair. I went into the second film thinking that there was no way it would be better than the one that came before it, after all, sequels as a general rule weren’t better than their predecessors, this one was following a particularly good film, and the effect that Moby song had on me after the first film would definitely be tough to replicate. Well, I was dead wrong, The Bourne Supremacy was actually a tad better than the first film, and it shaped up this franchise as a true action classic series and a hugely lucrative enterprise for Universal to get behind.

Then, somehow, The Bourne Ultimatum was way, way better than the second film. This seemed impossible, the first film was great, the second was even greater, and then you have this third film which is an absolute brilliant film any way you cut it. It was the perfect action movie, it had the most thrilling action setpieces, made all the more awesome by that shaky camera movement Mr. Greengrass became known for, it had an awesome performance from Matt Damon, and it was just inarguably the best installment in the franchise. And so it was that the Bourne franchise became the super rare example of a series of films that actually got better with each installment, and not worse, as is usually the case.

A fourth film would then be a logical next step, right? Well, yes, and no. I mean, Universal, from a money-making standpoint would obviously want another one, and this is a money-making business at the end of the day. But then there’s the fact that Robert Ludlum died before writing an additional novel, and while other authors have continued the story it’s just not the same thing. Then came word that Paul Greengrass would not be doing a fourth film, which was followed by word from Matt Damon saying that there was no way he’d do one without Mr. Greengrass. So, yeah, if they continued the story it would seem like a totally money move and not much else.

Of course that never stopped anybody, and the fourth film was still a go. Thankfully, though, there was reason to be hopeful. Tony Gilroy, who had written all three of the previous films, would not only come back on board to write the screenplay for this one, but would also step behind the lens. That was a huge win for the film because not only was this a man that knew the world and the characters perfectly well, but because Mr. Gilroy’s two previous directorial efforts are Michael Clayton and Duplicity, two seriously good films.

Mr. Gilroy was also smart enough to know that he couldn’t have another actor step in for Mr. Damon, this isn’t James Bond after all, and he wasn’t rebooting and telling another similar story or ignoring the Jason Bourne character. No, instead what he did was pull the curtain back, show just how big the conspiracy of the first three films was, and he had this one overlap for like the first twenty minutes or so with the events at the end of The Bourne Supremacy.

I thought that was a pretty slick idea, not to mention that it was a great thing that they were able to get top notch talent in place, like Jeremy Renner as the new lead, Aaron Cross; Edward Norton as the mastermind of this whole operation and Rachel Weisz as the doctor who helps out and is helped out by Aaron. That, plus having appearances from returning faces like David Strathairn and Joan Allen for a bit was essential. It allowed them to go in a new, different direction while still giving nods to the already existing world from the previous films.

That’s just it, though. Just like it would have been super hard for Mr. Gilroy to make a film that ignore the previous films, it’s hard for us as an audience to watch this film ignoring the ones that came before it. And in a way that’s why The Bourne Legacy didn’t really work to perfection for me. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the film well enough, I thought the performances were pretty terrific across the board, especially Mr. Renner’s leading turn, and I thought Mr. Gilroy was successful in expanding the world, too. What I felt was missing, though, was that compelling pull of the first films, I mean the story here was good and all, but I wasn’t nearly as immersed as I was before. I just missed Jason Bourne, and I missed the shaky camera movements.

I realize I really haven’t gone into much detail about the film itself. Well, in a nutshell, the basis for the film, as every poster for it will tell you, is that “there was never only one”, that Jason Bourne wasn’t the only agent wired that way and as proof of that we meet our new hero, Aaron Cross. After the events of the previous film trigger a series of consequences, Aaron is on the run from the company he worked for, who’s now trying to off him so that no evidence remains of what they were up to.

You can say that it’s unfair to judge this film based on the other ones, but it’s really not. I know this one’s meant to stand-alone, but not only is it super connected to the other ones and would be hard to really understand completely without having seen them, but it wouldn’t be able to exist without them. So, yeah, as a film The Bourne Legacy is good and it certainly provides some cool action-movie escapism and has some thrilling sequences (the ones at the laboratory and inside the house of Ms. Weisz’s character being the best of the bunch), but the absence of Matt Damon is too big not to notice.

Mad props to Mr. Gilroy for finding out a nice way to launch this new narrative here, giving us this cynical and high-tech spy world that’s pretty cool to get into. Props, also, to Jeremy Renner. He makes for a charming action star, and with this film, his role in The Avengers and the latest (and best) Mission: Impossible movie, the guy seems to be on a roll, even if he’s not yet a proven box office draw by himself. I say props, because they do a good job and this is a fine movie, but it feels like “props for trying, you did good, but you’re not Matt and Paul”. Take that as you may.

Grade: B

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One Response to “[Review] – The Bourne Legacy”

  1. BigBear85 September 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I enjoyed this film Though I felt the forest and setup was a bit long. Also as much as enjoyed the chase I felt the move missed out on one of te borne movie tropes…a knock down drag out fight between assassin and borne. that said It is still a good an enjoyable movie

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