Review: The Bourne Legacy

As we approach the final weeks of summer, Hollywood has nearly completed its annual swing of obligatory sequels, blockbusters and spin offs, but before we say sayonara, Tinsel Town has one more hand to play in the form of one of its most intelligent series: Bourne. In this case, however, gone is the marquis actor and style of the preceding trilogy. Instead, by providing us with a new agent, writer/director Tony Gilroy expands upon the universe he adapted. While it promises to take the series in provocative new directions and features strong character work, The Bourne Legacy fails to match the narrative propulsion and visual urgency of its predecessors.

From the outset, the setup and plot of The Bourne Legacy is both an asset and a hindrance. Occurring in parallel with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, the film focuses on the implications of the public discovering the purposes behind covert CIA programs with the unveiling of Jason Bourne. While Treadstone scours New York City for Bourne, another program by the name of Outcome is to be entirely dismantled, starting with the assassination of all of its agents and additional operatives. Among these are agent Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, and genetic scientist Dr. Marta Schearing, played by Rachel Weisz. Behind the hunt is Eric Byer (Edward Norton), whose own reputation stands on the same line as those from Treadstone and other corroborating CIA officials. Allowing the plot to work in tandem with the events of the preceding third film in the series is an uncommonly smart move, immediately providing a clear idea of the stakes involved, and for the first half of the film it works tremendously. However, once all the exposition and initial actions transpire, the remaining plot is a little thin, and the film wraps up without providing any sense of closure. Most damning, however, is the fact that the film can’t help but feel like a lesser developed subplot in relation to the explosive events occurring simultaneously in New York from Ultimatum.

In spite of these narrative issues, the cast here is very good, and the two leads are considerably fleshed out. Jeremy Renner continues his streak of hooking on to every franchise in his sights, and he gives a committed performance here as a man who has abandoned his past in order to put his country first. Aaron Cross has the ability to be as lethal as Jason Bourne, but since he is cognizant of his past, his internal conflict is less compelling. In any case, Renner dutifully takes the reigns with a pronounced external edginess matched by moments of quiet intensity. Rachel Weisz is surprisingly good as well, in a nicely rounded role that especially shows her range when CIA officials arrive at her home following a traumatic event. Finally, Edward Norton does solid work as the mastermind behind the operations of multiple agencies, and whose moral compass has long been absent, as displayed in a resonant flashback scene with Renner.

With the franchise under new management, The Bourne Legacy is a distinctly different breed from its predecessors if not in tone, than certainly in execution. The intensity here is not immediate, and the tension of the film builds steadily until the discovery of Bourne in New York. While key decisions are made in Washington, the film cross cuts to Cross training in Alaska, and once hell breaks loose, the two are visually united. The photography is what distinguishes Legacy most from Ultimatum and Supremacy, both of which were helmed by Paul Greengrass. Where the latter two were defined by disorienting and fast-paced editing in addition to near constant handheld work, Legacy employs steadicams, dollies, and cranes in its action scenes. This makes sense, for Cross’ psychology differs highly from Bourne’s and the visual styles of the respective films are reflective of that contrast. However, for sheer cinematic panache and intensity, Legacy fails to create the same sense of impending urgency that characterized the Greengrass films. Even its climactic action sequence largely plays out like a by-the-numbers chase scene with an underdeveloped antagonist, and thus the stakes feel diminished.

Ultimately, despite its lack narrative depth and unoriginal action sequences, The Bourne Legacy still shows a great deal of promise in the hands of its cast, all of whom give their material the necessary gravitas to propel the plot. Renner is a strong substitution for this series, and though his first story ends in unsatisfying fashion, his actions, like Bourne’s, contribute to the scale and magnitude of the objective unraveling of the entire American intelligence community. In taking an initially highly subjective account of one rogue agent, and revealing the objective consequences, The Bourne Legacy might not be as thrilling, but it does set the stage for a much grander chess game.

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~ by romancinema on August 13, 2012.

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