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The Bourne Legacy: Who's the New Guy?

A feeling of Damonlessness clouds a franchise

The Bourne films have more than just overstayed their welcome and outlasted the Ludlum books—they've been Van Halenized, with an abrupt change of frontman and a resulting dip in personality. The only big-ass popcorn franchise of the past decade to have not been spawned on computers, the series up to now has survived via Matt Damon's beady gaze, making decisions about where the story goes, even as director Paul Greengrass's jittery action fuzz did its best to render the set pieces of the past two entries almost unwatchable. (Doug Liman's initial film, maybe because it eschews the safe harmlessness of CGI, still pulses with panic and still freezes the channel-surfing thumb in mid click.) Now, we have Jeremy Renner as another Treadstone mega man (there were nine, apparently), and though he is a likable enough pug-nosed action figure, the Damonlessness is sorely felt.

Renner is not stranded by himself—The Bourne Legacy is chockablock with busy character-actor casting, from Edward Norton's nasally fed bulldog to fleeting cameos by David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, and Joan Allen. (For the extra work of a Guardian journalist who's killed without a line of dialogue, they even bothered to get Paddy Considine.) The film is as densely packed with officious people and global villages as Syriana and takes itself about as seriously. Mostly, though, Renner has on-the-run scientist helpmate Rachel Weisz, who is 41 going on 23 and brings a badly needed, full-throated payload of personal energy to her tagalong scenes, even though they're just that.

Given the film's relentless slam-blam effect, it's rather amazing that anybody gets to act at all. (James Newton Howard's score is abusive, with every mere establishing shot of Tokyo or Chicago getting a brontosaur's soundtrack stomp.) But acting does happen, mostly in a two-sentence splats, just enough to kick the narrative one more foot down the highway on its way to the inevitable showdown. There's a lot of pensive screen-watching in dark surveillance rooms.

Tony Gilroy, on his fourth Bourne and now unleashed from Ludlum's paperbacks (the subsequent Eric Van Lustbader sequels, even the one titled The Bourne Legacy, were not consulted), overplots in the Christopher Nolan manner. But Gilroy was smart enough to make room for juicy dramatics: After the film's lengthy centerpiece begins with a hairy workplace-shooting ordeal that Weisz survives, she heads to her crumbling fixer-upper mansion in the woods, where she's visited by seemingly concerned feds. Antics ensue, but only after a hearty dose of old-school interpersonal tension. The story in general takes a while to hit gears, but its primary task is revealing the broader program from which Bourne arose and the pharmaceutical basis of its behavioral modifications. Renner's Aaron Cross, first met fighting off wolves in Alaska, is a pill- popping über-mensch who suddenly realizes, as per Norton's bureaucratic fiat, that the program is being shut down and its progeny eliminated one by one. He's motivated to survive the onslaught (at first, via drone) but also to score more über-dope; Weisz's lab geek agrees to help only after realizing she's being hunted, too.

This presents a dynamic Damon might not have enjoyed: Without his meds, the quick-minded Cross would revert back to his old learning-disabled self, like the experimental subject in Flowers for Algernon. ("I've got a long way to fall," Cross says, grumbling.) You can't blame the lug, though the notion that only a daily dose of "viral" beanies was all Damon's Bourne needed to be Bourne is disenchanting, to say the least. The exposition supporting this chemical backstory fills the eddies in the action flow in ways the Bourne movies never required before, and the techno-gibberish flies like confetti.

Bourne, we're told, is also still evading assassination somewhere, and perhaps Universal is hoping for a Damon/Greengrass reunion for number five, which we'll call The Bourne Redundancy for now. Renner might just be a placeholder. Working in the trenches so he can eventually make himself another Michael Clayton, Gilroy keeps things brisk and relatively smart, but he can't be surprised if we find the rooftop-'n'-motorcycle chase through Manila a little rote by now, however white-knuckly and free of Greengrass camera palsy. The late-in-the-game introduction of a supervillain—a Bourne 2.0 from a "beta program" flown in from Bangkok in white skinny jeans—feels like outright pandering. But hell, it's the fourth film, and that's what happens when Hollywood hyperextends a simple paradigm beyond even the patience of the last cast and crew. (Greengrass just "wasn't interested" in another Bourne, and without him, Damon bailed.) Are we expecting much more?

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6 comments
FastZebra
FastZebra

That is so sad.  I liked this movie.  I liked that it was in fact different than the Bourne movies and I liked Renner.  I liked Renner a lot.  He doesn't come out as a "leading man," he's just the guy the camera focuses on--and that was cool.

travy
travy

renner is just not a leading man. this could end up being a big career 'mistake'

Char005
Char005

Gotta ask yourself, if they have viral meds that increase intelligence and physical prowess why start with a learning developed goon?  Much lower ceiling.  Oh yeah,  governmental agencies.  Makes sense now.

adamhe67
adamhe67 like.author.displayName 1 Like

While I mostly agree with your review I think you missed some of the major pieces. As someone else commented, I think the Considine scenes were previously shot film (not newly shot) and were mostly used to show that these events are happening now and this is why they're shutting down the program. Also, Aaron Cross wasn't in Treadstone, he was in Alcom (sp?) which was a sister program to Treadstone. Alcom used viral meds to enhance it's agents whereas Treadstone obviously relied only on training and psychological manipulation. You mention the "Bourne 2.0" agent and he was from another clandestine program (LARX) that apparently didn't have the med dependencies of Alcom or the inconsistency of Treadstone (and was still a secret to Stacy Keach's character).  

All that being said, I think that those points lead me to a more interesting interpretation of the movie. I still think it was lacking in action/fighting. I thought there was more dialogue than you mention and that this seemed more of a character development film. I'm hoping for a Matt Damon/Jeremy Renner crossover for a fifth Bourne film. 

adamhe67
adamhe67

My mistake. I guess the name of the sister program is "Outcome." It sounded like Alcom in the theater I was at.

rcashill
rcashill

The Considine scene must be a flashback to the last one, where he had an actual part. 

 

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