Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: The Bourne Legacy

Is it possible for Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) to not be in a movie, but then be in a movie, but then not actually be in the movie?  This is the question I asked myself repeatedly during the first act of The Bourne Legacy.  We get that there is a connection to the previous trilogy starring the aforementioned Damon especially since the name “Bourne” is in the title of the new film, and we get that “There Was Never Just One” as we’ve been told by the incredibly vague one sheets (worst. marketing. ever.) plastered at your local bus stop.  But to devote so much of the first act towards the previous film – The Bourney Ultimatum – even though the films are meant to be perceived concurrently really derails Legacy as a stand alone film.  That and the fact that the opening act is incredibly slow really sets a bad tone for the rest of the movie - one that proves difficult to overcome.

The Bourne Legacy follows the plight of Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner), who is yet another covert operative in the increasingly crowded world of espionage originated by author Robert Ludlum.  Cross is a somewhat reluctant agent who is put on the run when CIA officials decide to cut bait after the fallout from Bourne’s activities.  Throw in some genetic alterations, pharmaceuticals, (a hotbed of political activity, no doubt) the lovely Rachel Weisz, and morally ambiguous government officials and we’re off to the races.

Legacy is not a bad movie, it’s just not what we’ve come to expect from the series.  And if they wanted to make more of a clean break and reboot the franchise, spending the first 30 minutes of the film unraveling Jason Bourne’s final cinematic act was probably not the best way to proceed.  That it lends itself to a ton of exposition and brings the pacing to a stand still further exasperates the problem.  And like a basketball player who front rims his first foul shot, director Tony Gilroy over compensates the methodical start to the film by fast forwarding through the third act.  Or  in basketball terms (to complete the analogy), he clangs the second free throw off the back of the rim.

Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross is adequate.  There’s nothing here we haven’t seen from him before.  He is no nonsense and brings enough physicality to role to make things credible.  There’s just nothing extraordinary about his performance – no extra layer that sets his character apart from dozens of other cinematic tough guys who can wield a gun and save the girl. Ditto for Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing, who knows very well how to play this type of role.  We’ve seen her do it expertly in The Mummy and Constantine.  Again there is nothing special about her in this film and the charm that usually makes her standout onscreen is noticeably absent.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s Ed Norton and a bunch of people you vaguely recognize (Scott Glenn, Donna Murphy, Stacy Keach), only it’s not the Ed Norton of American History X or Fight Club.  It’s middle aged Ed Norton in business casual looking grim and frustrated from inside an office building and it’s definitely a step down for an actor who has delivered many memorable performances.

In gauging this film, the tenor of my review is probably more negative than my initial reaction to the movie, but as the saying goes, “to those whom are given much, much is expected.”  And the creative team has been given much – a strong cast and a well-recognized franchise, but at the end of the day, despite all the motion and commotion, you’re left to wonder what was really accomplished during the film’s two hour running time.  That is where my disappointment with this film ultimately stems from.

Despite all this, I would recommend The Bourne Legacy only with diminished expectations.  It’s not a game changer and not a mind bender.  It’s your standard action fare with expertly shot action sequences and a little too much exposition in between.  One can argue whether it is a successful reboot of the franchise, but the better question to be debated is whether or not it is a franchise worth watching without the character (and actor) whose name appears in the title.  My answer is going forward is no.

Standout Performance: The nod has to go to Jeremy Renner for this film even though his performance is not exceptional.  He does all the heavy lifting here and everyone else in the movie is more or less window dressing.


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