Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

THE BOURNE LEGACY: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton (135 min.)

The Bourne Legacy is like the wind blowing behind the kite of an existing franchise, expanding the universe and carrying the torch up up and away.  Re-tooling a franchise on the fly is a daring proposition, so the most vital aspect might be getting quality actors in key roles.  The Bourne Legacy does this, with Jeremy Renner taking the reins from Matt Damon, Rachel Weisz picking up where Franka Potente left off in the original, and Edward Norton as the center of damage control back in those frenetic, super-secret offices.  The acting is all compelling, and some of the early action is griping.  But something begins to fizzle two thirds of the way through the picture.  Things begin to feel hollow.

Renner plays Aaron Cross, another protege of the Treadstone/Blackbriar/ultra-secretive spy-assassin organization dealing in international espionage.  As we pick up on the action, we have a parallel set of stories following Cross in the wilderness and another story which is an aside to the final moments of The Bourne Ultimatum.  If this sounds confusing, it is, but if you focus you can follow everything eventually.  There is overlap with Damon's last adventure, and the way the film fits in with Ultimatum is one of the more clever moments in the screenplay from director Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy.  Things begin with promise.  Jason Bourne's exposure of the Treadstone project prompts Colonel Eric Byer (Norton) to promptly erase the program - and all of those involved - from the face of the earth. 

Weisz plays Dr. Marta Shearing, head of a lab where the assassin propoganda is driven into the heads and bodies of these men.  There are mysterious pills at the core of The Bourne Legacy; one is for the mind and one is for the body, and both are pills which Cross needs in order to function.  Marta's lab analyzes and improves these products until, of course, the initiative is passed down to erase the program and one of her co-workers is left in charge of murdering everyone who might be a liability.  This scene, where Marta's lab partner soulessly shoots the doctors in question is quite a disturbing and tense moment in the film.  I almost think this scene should have saddled the picture with an R rating.

Marta escapes the attack, then is saved from another by Cross, who needs her to get him the medication.  This takes them to Manila, in the Philippines, where the film's climax takes place.  And by this time, I began to question the movie's motivations beyond extending a familiar name into a new franchise.  Renner as Cross is a magnetic personality, but he is lacking the emotional anguish of Damon's Bourne.  Without the amnesia and the reconsideration of his life as an assassin, without the guilt associated with the central character, Cross is infinitely less interesting.  It is Weisz who stands out here as a strong female lead who carries her own weight alongside Renner.

Action is also an important aspect of these films, and while there are some thrilling moments early the climactic chase scene is as dull and monotonous as it gets.  The way this lifeless finale drones on and on, across rooftops and sidewalks and on buses in cars and on motorcycles, is the biggest letdown of the film.  And yet, those first two acts carry the film and the franchise forward as best they can with a third act dragging down everything.  Tony Gilroy can handle the interplay between fine actors doing their thing, and he can handle the hand to hand combat well enough.  Where this franchise misses Paul Greengrass is in these elaborate chases and wrecks.  The Bourne Legacy is decent, but nowhere near its predecessors, overlap or no overlap.