– Summary –
Director : Tony Gilroy
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, Zeljko Ivanek, Elizabeth Marvel, Shane Jacobsen.
Approx Running Time : 125 Minutes
Synopsis: Alex Cross, one of the operatives from the Treadstone experiment, goes up against those who created him alongside scientist Marta Shearing, outrunning the constant pursuit and engagement be other agency plants.
What we think : This slight change of pace for the Bourne franchise is well filmed, well acted but ultimately a case of being something of a stepping stone between Ultimatum and whatever the next film is going to be. While the narrative runs concurrently with events in The Bourne Ultimatum, and features a lot of the same cast in their respective roles, Tony Gilroy’s solid direction can’t quite seem to lift the veil of “so what” that surrounds this film, because Alex Cross isn’t (yet) a character we care about. An attention-diverting entry into what has been until now a pretty dependable franchise, The Bourne Legacy seems to be the first misstep in this saga’s potential.
Bourne again…. only without Bourne himself.
With the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, you kinda got the sense that the story told with Matt Damon in the driver’s seat had run its course; the plot threads were wrapped up, the characters all concluded and the three-film narrative arrived at what was its seemingly natural three-act conclusion. The story of The Bourne Legacy, which gives us a new central “hero” to invest in, feels more like a profit making exercise than a genuinely involving continuation of the franchise, a franchise that, I might add, was exceptionally well built from the first installment, and continued under the stylish eye of director Paul Greengrass. While much of the same plot devices from the previous films make their way into this one, and the listing between on-the-run fugitives and in-a-bunker-with-screens CIA surveillance sequences continues unabated, The Bourne Legacy tries to reach the heights of what has come before, and doesn’t quite make it. It’s not bad – it’s just not that great by comparison, either. So what is it about The Bourne Legacy that misfires? Is it the casting? The story? Or the fact that this film doesn’t include Jason Bourne?
Operative Alex Cross (Jeremy Renner) is crossing the Alaskan wilderness when Jason Bourne is creating havoc in New York (events of The Bourne Ultimatum), havoc which causes the Treadstone, Brian Patch and Operation Outcome programs in jeopardy – the order is given to terminate all operative waiting assignment in the field. Cross, who survives an attack by missile from a drone, makes his way to America seeking out the one woman who administered his “chems” – chemical programming for operatives via color-coded pills – Doctor Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Marta is witness to an attack on the laboratory facility by one of her own, a fellow scientist (Zeljko Ivanek) who goes postal and starts executing his co-workers. As the only survivor, Marta returns home where she is promptly attacked by more operatives, before she is rescued by Cross. From there, Cross and Marta make their way across the globe to Manila, in the Philippines, where Cross hopes his dependency on the pills for his enhanced abilities can be stopped. Meanwhile, CIA liaison Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is tasked with preventing Alex Cross’s situation from becoming public, hunting both the rogue operative and his female companion around the globe in order to kill them.
I’ve been a massive fan of Tony Gilroy for a long time. As a writer, he’s scripted (or co-scripted) some of my favorite films: Armageddon, The Devil’s Advocate, Jamie Foxx’s Bait, Michael Clayton (also directed) and State of Play, while also giving the Bourne franchise a sense of continuity by scribing ever installment thus far. It’s perhaps this sense of continuity which led to his chance in the director’s chair for this project, and going in, one might have expected a reasonably solid effort from a man whose visual style is exemplary, and whose command of story is equally so. And, as expected, Gilroy pretty much delivers, with a few faults. The Bourne Legacy has the burdensome task of introducing us to a new central character around which this spy/espionage/action stuff occurs: there’s no Matt Damon in this aside from a couple of photos, although references are made to the events of The Bourne Ultimatum so as to keep viewers firmly glued to the timeframe in which Legacy unfolds. Accepting the new character, in this case Alex Cross, largely depended on the audience’s expectations of exactly where he would take us, and on what emotional journey.
Gilroy had painted himself into a corner with Legacy, at least as far as story went. With the events of Ultimatum wrapping up the Jason Bourne narrative, all Legacy could ever be was a tangent film, a film which tapped into the public awareness of the Bourne franchise while not actually having Bourne in it. A tough ask for any writer, because Alex Cross would always be compared to Matt Damon’s iconic action hero. And as comparisons go, Alex Cross still has a ways to go before he’s compared equally so. Gilroy’s chanced his arm on a bigger back-story to the whole Bourne franchise – what if there was more than just Treadstone behind the scenes here, what if there were other programs designed to create Bourne-ish operatives placed everywhere around the world, and what would happen if the Government lost control of them? It’s debatable whether this continued subterfuge by those in the dark rooms and with stars on their sleeves is even remotely interesting to audiences today, considering the state of the world and the general distrust of Government figures (last year’s General Petraeus scandal comes to mind), but it’s fair to say that simply broadening the scope of the corruption and involvement of agencies like the CIA doesn’t generate much empathy from a viewer who’s already seen this in three earlier Bourne movies. The Bourne model, as it was prior to Legacy, needed a fresh start, although I don’t think Gilroy’s pulled that off this time. Legacy feels more like a retread, a clone of the previous films that lacks ingenuity and imagination. It’s essentially more of the same.
The film bubbles along nicely during the opening act – the first forty minutes is Cross trekking through, clambering around, and escaping from the Alaskan wilderness, although this potential tripfall is interspersed with the political shenanigans back in Maryland; Legacy sets up Cross with minimal fuss, although perhaps it should have done a better job. Once Marta survives the horrific workplace slayings, and she’s nearly killed back at her house before Cross rescues her, the film leaps into the now-familiar territory of Bourne-on-the-run storytelling; Cross and Marta have to stay one step ahead of their pursuers, and while in many ways this aspect of the film tends to be rather routine – close call followed by chase, followed by another close call and a bit of hand-to-hand combat – Gilroy does enough, and Renner does too, to keep things interesting.
Renner, as Cross, is magnetic on the screen. He’s dynamic, convincing and actually rather a lot like Daniel Craig’s take on James Bond; they even have vaguely similar features, although I think Craig has the jump in terms of overall style. Renner does little with his dialogue, and it’s problematic in terms of his character arc in that the journey we go on with him is less important (apparently) than seeing the CIA dudes back in the USA tracking them down. At least Matt Damon’s story followed a definite arc that audiences could tap into, the amnesiac guy who has weird combat skills trying to discover his identity; here, Cross knows who he is and what he’s designed for, it’s the “let’s get my pills” story that bears the brunt of Gilroy’s misplaced creativity. It’s too large a Macguffin for the limited character development to overcome. On a positive note, I found the screen chemistry between Renner and Weisz quite sweet, although I did tend to think Weisz looked a little out of her depth. I know she cut her action chops in the Mummy films, but in a film where action takes prevalence over dramatic work, she flounders.
Edward Norton looks tired by the convoluted CIA-level dialogue and subterfuge he’s forced to spout, and to be honest, I found his character sadly lacking in any kind of reality whatsoever. In fact, his role as Eric Byer seemed more a clone of the previous film’s CIA operatives, there if only to move the dramatic tension forward and lacking in even a basic humanity. Aussie audiences will be pleased to see homegrown hero Shane Jacobsen (that’s right, the guy who starred in Kenny, one of the funniest Aussie films of the last 10 years) as a factory manager who hunts down Cross and Marta. Big names like David Strathairn and Joan Allen provide little to the film other than a tie-in visually to the previous movies.
As for action, I guess you’d say The Bourne Legacy leaves its bravura moments until the very end. The film opens slowly, builds through the middle with a nicely mounted house-siege and attack, swiftly transitions to the slums of Manilla in the Philippines and gives us one hell of a motorcycle chase. The back-heavy action moments might give the audience a false sense of witnessing one classic action film, but the lack of real drama in the opening half hour robs the film of any critical mass it might have built up by the conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, a twenty minute motorbike chase through traffic and crowds in Manilla is thrilling to watch and quite obscenely lengthy, but the build up to it seems sluggish and devoid of drama. Renner looks nice doing his best Bourne schtick, and co-star Louis Ozawa Changchien is good as the T-1000-esque operative sent to track them down and kill them, but by the time we get around to this sequence, the film is lost to us as a keeper.
The Bourne Legacy encounters several speed bumps along the way to its true legacy as a film in this franchise. The story seems to be half-cocked, almost an afterthought to the previous installments, and Cross isn’t the most engaging central character around which to base your story. Hindered by a slow opening, lacking any kind of natural character arc for either Renner or Weisz (who spends most of the time looking scared and confused, which is par for the course on these genre films, I guess) and hampered by a redundant set of characters in the background who bring nothing new to the spy-on-the-run narrative, and Legacy seems hobbled before its gets out of the starting gate. It’s passable in a lazy, genre clone kinda way, and I guess it goes a long way to reminding us just how good the Damon-starring Bourne films were, but if the fourth film in the saga is content to just drift over the line, I hope somebody ups the ante for the inevitable fifth. The Bourne Legacy is merely mediocre.