MOVIE REVIEW: The Bourne Legacy



After just watching Total Recall recently, I was reminded of the editorial I wrote on the New Year's resolutions of the movie industry for 2012.  Like Total Recall  and The Amazing Spider-Man earlier this summer, The Bourne Legacy also made my prognosticating cross-hairs.  In that piece's sixth resolution, I wrote "Stop using makeup and name recognition to try and hide bad ideas," when speaking about this impending spin-off film back in January.  I wasn't too keen on a movie with the Bourne name that didn't include Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass (the two have since re-teamed in Green Zone, an underrated little Iraq-set thriller).  The whole notion seemed like a studio milking a trilogy that was buttoned up nicely by The Bourne Ultimatum.

Since January, my worry and criticism has slowly subsided since getting clues of this movie's plot thanks to its excellent teaser and trailer.  I actually liked where they were advertising where the story was going.  When the voices stated "Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg," I bought into it.  Now that I've seen the finished product, I can safely say that the filmmakers have succeeded, albeit with mixed results, in creating a sequel/spin-off worthy of the winning franchise we enjoyed from 2002 to 2007.

The initial timeline of The Bourne Legacy is interwoven concurrently with the events that happened during 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum.  If you haven't seen that movie in a while, I highly recommend it as a necessary refresher.  You'll be less lost.  

The Bourne Legacy also progresses through the tangent aftermath of Treadstone's public exposure thanks to Jason Bourne's actions and Pamela Landy's (Joan Allen) reporting, with CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), head CIA Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), and Treadstone creator Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney) taking the congressional and public fall.  Each of those actors have small returning roles to those characters.

The breakdown of the clandestine program's secrecy began with the initial expose piece written by London reporter Simon Ross (poor Paddy Considine, who has to get shot all over again) in The Bourne Ultimatum.  While that movie chases Jason Bourne, this movie shows the big muscle oversight team looking to clean up all traces of Treadstone and its off-shoot projects before they too are exposed publicly.  The two powerful men in charge of that process are Eric Byer (a razor-focused Edward Norton), a retired Air Force colonel, and his right-hand man Mark Turso (Stacy Keach, ironically Norton's menacing boss from American History X thirteen years ago), a retired Navy admiral.

Enter the wild card of Aaron Ross, played by Jeremy Renner, the new torch holder for this franchise.  Where Matt Damon's Jason Bourne was a "generation one" model of strenuous mental and physical training, Ross represents the next phase past that: genetic improvement to go along with all of that training.  Ross is one of nine special "Outcome" operatives who have been issued a regiment of virus-based pharmaceuticals that improve their mental and physical acuity beyond that of normal men.  Those pills and the operatives themselves are regulated and tested at a secret lab facility where Dr. Marta Shearing (Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz), our soon-to-be damsel in distress, works.

When Byer and his people begin to eliminate and erase the elements of these clandestine programs, two loose ends remain.  Aaron escapes attack drones and wolves in Alaska and Marta survives a brainwashed execution attempt from a colleague at the lab.  Aaron, out of his "chem" supply, seeks out and rescues Marta from her assassination, also exposing his own survival.  Aaron and Marta tie their fates together to survive and escape their elimination.

The Bourne Legacy is more of a new chapter than it is a sequel or reboot.  Think of it as if you're watching a new Star Wars movie from the point-of-view of the Storm Troopers in the background at the Death Star, but just really important ones.  I'm glad director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity), the main screenwriter of the first three Bourne films, tried a different direction and didn't seek to copy the Damon films.  Where Jason Bourne is an introverted and sullen man, Aaron Ross is a talker and a questioner.  That carried over into the performance as well.  Jeremy Renner is, thankfully, not trying to do a Matt Damon impersonation.  His charm comes through enough that you know very quickly that, even with their similar back stories, this is a different character with different motivations.  That element is a success.

However, it's a big leap of a tangent in story.  With all of the detail being presented of this new area taking place beside the previous timeline, The Bourne Legacy is a little overwhelming to follow.  To the uninformed, the new acronyms, code names, terminology, doctrine, and jargon is very thick.  I know I can follow all of it, but a great many people are going to get lost in all the Outcomes, Blackbriars, Treadstones, assets, chems, and etc. thrown around in this movie.  While the Bourne movies are not out to define their "white hats" from their "black hats" like a western, there is still too much confusing suspicion with too many characters.  While deception and twists are still key to making a great thriller, the previous Bourne movies fleshed their characters and their motivations out more clearly than here in The Bourne Legacy.

From a filmmaking standpoint, The Bourne Legacy can't match the pace and spark of the first three films.  Those previous films moved with unmatched kinetic speed and had jaw-dropping action set pieces.  This new film slows down too often, offers nothing spontaneously memorable in "wow" moments, and has much less action overall than its predecessors.  Die-hard Bourne  fans will feel this lighter weight and substance.

Where I can give The Bourne Legacy a passing grade to finish this review and the right to continue to prove itself later is within its open-ended story.  This new film ends quite ambiguously, letting us know that this is just the beginning of Aaron Ross's story.  We all cross our fingers that this could potentially lead to a Aaron Ross/Jeremy Renner and Jason Bourne/Matt Damon team-up down the road.  That possibility and notion begs for a sequel and I think The Bourne Legacy has set up enough new details worth exploring to warrant one.

LESSON #1: THEY WILL ALWAYS COME OUT WITH NEWER MODELS OF SOLDIERS-- One generation's single-shot musket is the next generation's semi-automatic assault rifle.  One generation's suit of armor is the next generation's Kevlar.  The warmongers among us will always improve on the designs and capabilities of soldiers.  Like I said early, Aaron Ross is a second generation development and experiment.  His genetic modifications trump the intense training of Jason Bourne before him.  However, Ross, later in the movie, meets the next step in solider development beyond him.  The trend will continue.

LESSON #2: WITH THE GOVERNMENT, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A COVER-UP OF THE COVER-UP-- The bold nature of what Byer and Turso are out to do, which is burn the program to the ground, should remind us that cover-ups will always have layers.  One level of spin is backed up by another level of spin, somebody's removal somewhere down the line, a pinned scapegoat, an erasure of history and tracks, and the planted seeds of course correction to still accomplish what you still really want to do.  Government conspiracy folks get all jazzed up from movies like this.

LESSON #3: YOU SHOULD KNOW THE GUY, YOU TRAINED HIM-- This is kind of a "grain of salt" and "suspend disbelief" flaw in the entire Bourne series whether we are talking about Jason Bourne then or Aaron Cross now.  One man should not be able to elude, operate so independently, and defeat the entire government organization that trained him.  One man should not be able to constantly surprise, out-think, and out-calculate the smarter and more numerous people that controlled and trained him.  Come on, big bosses, this is your guy.  He should be incredibly out-resourced and outnumbered.  You should know what he's going to do next, not the other way around.  There's my mini-rant and I forgive you, Bourne movies.  You're still cool.