14 August 2012


How many franchises are there nowadays, that have staggered on by contriving sequels that pretend there was always some other story going on before or during the events of the original? Saw was a series that took that beyond all logical limitations, to the tune of seven instalments, but there are far too many sequels out there that move forward only on a box office spreadsheet, and inversely, take a backward-arse narrative approach.

After 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon moved on from the amnesiac adventures of Jason Bourne, meaning that this week's The Bourne Legacy comes under the direction of the original trilogy's screenwriter, Tony Gilroy, and utterly devoid of Bourne himself. Taking place concurrently with the previous film, we learn that the CIA set up not one, or even two super-secret soldier enhancement programmes, but five or so, all with varying success. Aaron Cross is a product of one such programme, and when he's jonesing for his super-soldier medicine, he attracts the wrath of the CIA's self-proclaimed sin eaters.

Here's a comparison that many of you aren't going to like. The Bourne Legacy is to the previous three films what Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was to the original Indiana Jones trilogy. It's nowhere near as silly, obviously, but I say that as someone who believes that there was some good in the fourth Indy outing, however badly it was obscured by Shia LaBeouf and other foolishness. But Crystal Skull both exaggerated and exacerbated the good attributes we remembered about the first three films, beyond all recognition. Based on the strength of what came before, Tony Gilroy really should have known better than to retcon aspects of the series to bring in this new character.

There are five different codenamed CIA sub-groups, all dedicated to the largely unsuccessful conditioning of enhanced, Bourne-like agents. All of these are shrouded in mystery, although Edward Norton's Colonel Byer seems to have a handle on most of what is going on, even though the audience doesn't. Given how we initially started, with Jason Bourne having lost his memory, what's the point of revealing that he didn't know any more to begin with, than people with their brains fully intact throughout? It doesn't merely attempt to cash in on the original three films- it actively leeches off of them.

The flaws of this movie are legion. It spends an hour or so dawdling between CIA operations rooms- where people are talking about covert stuff, and codenames that ultimately mean nothing- and Aaron Cross' adventures with bastard wolves in Alaska. After traipsing through fifty shades of The Grey, Cross finally means something to the actual plot, which doesn't involve much aside from occasionally referencing Jason Bourne. The film really misses Matt Damon- it talks about him all the time, even though it pretends it's doing fine without him.

You can only imagine that this was meant to prove Jeremy Renner as a leading man, and he acquits himself very well with very little material. Most infuriating of all is a scene around the halfway point, by far the best in the movie, in which Rachel Weisz's hapless bio-chemist tagalong learns the reason why Cross is so determined to retain the enhanced physicality and intelligence that is provided by his MacGuffin meds. After a slow incline, the film peaks with a brilliant bit of characterisation that promptly goes nowhere at all, and the decline reaches rock bottom about ten minutes before the ludicrous ending.

It isn't all bad- I admired the way in which Gilroy doesn't waste any time trying to replicate Paul Greengrass' style. Shaky-cam, for better and for worse, became the default for so many action movies of this type, as a result of Greengrass' Bourne sequels. As part of this semi-reboot/sequel thing, the fight scenes are more clearly staged. They're less disorienting, except in the climactic jumble on the streets of Manila. At the same time, none of the fights are as inventive as anything Bourne ever did- the closest that Cross gets to using an everyday item as a lethal weapon is when he knocks down a recovering assassin by kicking a table at his head.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of the original trilogy, not least because of how clumsily their action style has been replicated in lesser films, but it seems to me that the people who will least enjoy The Bourne Legacy are those fans with the biggest investment in the films that featured Matt Damon. No matter how you spin it, that's completely the wrong way around. None of this is the fault of Renner or Weisz, who are far too good to stay shackled to this suddenly spluttering franchise for too long, but instead, it's a bridge too far for Gilroy, who tries to weave new threads back into what was already established, and instead gets tangled up in a disappointing residuum.

The Bourne Legacy is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Bourne Legacy, why not share your comments below? Possible SPOILER alert, if you haven't, but... that's a James Bond ending! Amiright?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Renner is no Matt Damon, but he brings a certain type of edge to Aaron Cross that makes him different from Jason Bourne. Not saying that it’s a good thing or bad thing, just a very good idea that Gilroy uses here and it helps the film out in the long-run. Good review Mark.