Bourne Retains an Identity

The Bourne Legacy (2012)     ★★★ 1/2

Directed by Tony Gilroy (Universal Pictures)

Walking in, my most disconcerting thought regarding The Bourne Legacy was that another may follow, considering that even this first expansion of the original trilogy (which wrapped itself up rather nicely in 2007) seemingly had nowhere to go. Universal therefore made a grand decision in hiring the co-writer of the first three films, Tony Gilroy, to direct. Featuring a screenplay written by Gilroy and his brother, Dan, in addition to editing by his second brother, John, The Bourne Legacy truly is a family affair, helmed by a man who knows how to build upon a franchise he had a tremendous stake in … and still does.

Alas, we have no Matt Damon, but Jeremy Renner, as newly introduced protagonist Aaron Cross, gives a commanding performance. And as opposed to Damon’s vulnerable intensity, Renner is successful in delivering a character that is compelling for different reasons. Meanwhile, Gilroy’s direction provides the perfect balance between the stylization of Doug Liman’s original (which in my opinion, remains the weakest film of the four), and the superior, more naturalistically violent sequels by Paul Greengrass. In Legacy, the quick-cut action sequences are surprisingly well-edited, delivering rapid moments of intensity that contrast with a film of much slower pace than its predecessors.

The screenplay, while blending much of the narrative with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, is clever to the extent that it is consistently thrilling, despite containing relatively thin plotting (which becomes clear in a rather flimsy third act). Many would say that Damon was the heart of the series, and they would probably be right. But there is enough interesting material here to believe that if Gilroy continues to expand this universe (while still retaining the presence of both Jason Bourne and the impact of his character, which is done phenomenally here), there may still be life in what started as a bizarre case of amnesia.

As Cross, Renner plays a black ops agent in a program similar to the one that bred Bourne, and that which faces exposure after the impactful events of Ultimatum. Only him and Dr. Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz) remain after a CIA attempt to destroy all human evidence, an escapade led by operations head Eric Beyer (Edward Norton). Renner may lack Damon’s questioning gaze, but he feels completely right for this new role; a man who must acquire the ferocity of a lone wolf, while retaining the humanity that his superiors abandon.

Thankfully, Cross and Weisz’s character aren’t cheapened by becoming immediate lovers, but they do share an interest in one another that goes beyond their mutual desire to stay alive. They have both become casualities of the government cleaning up its messes, and despite whether or not they are attracted to each other, their mutual hope fuels them in a quest to escape bureaucratic evil. Both performances are sharp, but the real scene-stealer is Norton, whose character is simply required to forgo making moral decisions.

This theme of the Bourne films continues here, and is executed just as well. The government creates victims in its attempt to provide elaborate national security, but fails to cover its tracks when one of those victims (with semi-superhuman abilities) fights back. Jason Bourne had identity issues; plus they just wouldn’t leave the poor guy alone. Aaron Cross just wants to break from the absurdity. Therefore, there’s no hero / villain relationship between himself and Ed Norton, there’s simply two men doing what they believe must be done. The one scene they share together is fantastic, and despite not having any other confrontation, their conflicting interests remain as strong in the script as the spirit of Jason Bourne.

Legacy‘s got legs to stand on, mostly because Gilroy found the right frame of reference in which to build a sequel. But if he hopes to expand the series even further, things are gonna have to get inventive. His film has few twists to speak of, and along with Damon, the densly-plotted intrigue of the prior two films is sorely missing. In fact, not enough really happens in The Bourne Legacy, but as an action film, it has enough layers of subtext to be as dramatically consistent as it is thrilling in several action sequences and moments of suspense.

Many opening scenes are set in Alaska, and feature story material (and a touch of symbolism) that is far different from anything else we have seen in the Bourne franchise. In contradiction, the film tends to show weakness in its retread of situations and dialogue that seem to nearly parody dramatic intricacies of the series. A rather implausible plot development involving a super-assassin is one such example; an unexplored complication lending itself to an abrupt resolution. At least Moby’s “Extreme Ways” plays in the end credits, once again. But of course, a little extra juice is slapped on the now-classic tune. I then return to my initial thought, and wonder what lies beyond Legacy. What I’m looking for is the next track, but in the meantime, who doesn’t enjoy a good remix?



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