The Bourne Legacy (2012)
(12A) Running time: 135 minutes
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
The fourth film in the ‘Bourne’ franchise arrives with one great big question, how can you make a ‘Bourne’ film without Jason Bourne? Well, technically you can, and Tony Gilroy (who wrote the screenplay for the previous three Bourne films) has, and in all fairness, he has done a relatively good job in keeping the franchise alive. However, come the (painfully) abrupt end to ‘Legacy’, you begin to wonder if the franchise deserves to continue. My answer would be no, and while I found Jeremy Renner to be superb in the role of new rogue agent Aaron Cross, I feel this fourth film stretched the story and almost felt, dare I say it, desperate.
Jason Bourne does make a few brief appearances here in photo form, with the films story running alongside the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. However in this film we focus on another secret experiment of expertly trained agents, project “Outcome” and with Jason Bourne threatening to blow the lid off Treadstone, new dodgy Government shady bloke Eric Byer (a very welcome return of Edward Norton) decides to shut down the Outcome project. Cue agents dropping dead all over the world while on missions in a frightening, if confusing moment of madness. Aaron Cross, however, is safe for the moment: climbing across snow covered mountains he heads to a cabin where he meets another agent. They have some strained conversations before being targeted for termination, and with Cross escaping the hunt is now on to kill him. We also learn of a science lab which has designed two special tablets, known as “chems” which keep these particular agents powerful, and rather clever. Cross is running out of chems, and he needs his drugs in order to stay ahead of the people trying to kill him, and to avoid the painful (so he has been told) cold turkey struggle.
Rachel Weisz plays Dr Marta Shearing, a designer of the pills and administrator of the drug during the agents regular check-ups. In another plot, she too becomes a target after surviving one of her colleagues going a bit mental (or did he?) and killing everyone in the lab. Naturally with Cross needing his ‘fix’ the pair team up in a desperate hunt for the pills. Now, before you read that and go “what? Is that really the plot, you’re joking right?” Well no, no I am not, this really does boil down to a super agent hunting for his pills, and the more I think about it the more ludicrous it all sounds: surely the Bourne franchise deserved better than this?
Well, the film does have its high points. Jeremy Renner is incredible as Aaron Cross, and while Matt Damon portrayed the coldest, most methodical Agent ever seen on our screens, Renner delivers a much more human character. Renner has the look of a desperate man, but of a man who can, and will do anything to survive. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cross has some truly wonderful moments which echo Jason Bourne’s quick thinking in a pressurised situation: witness Cross deal with a pack of wolves who have been hunting him, see how he takes out the ‘bad guys’ at Dr Shearing’s house in the country, or witness the sheer brilliance of his vicious fight scenes. Like Damon, Renner oozes confidence in his performance, and is totally convincing. In fact, Renner is the best thing about this film, and while he is not really comparable to Damon’s Bourne, he never wants to be. This is Renner’s show, and this is Renner’s character, and he proves once more why he is such a terrific choice for any film he gets involved with. Rachel Weisz is terrific in her role, although she might scream or shout a few times too many for those less patient viewers. However my personal highlight was seeing Edward Norton finally back in a big, powerful role and every second he is on screen reminds me of why I have admired him as an actor for so many years. Seeing some familiar faces pop up here and there is a nice, gentle reminder that we are indeed watching a Bourne film (Renner’s performance could easily have made this film The Cross Legacy), and Gilroy’s clever scripting allows the film to easily access The Bourne Ultimatum’s plot to merge the two.
Speaking of scripting and writing, The Bourne Legacy, much like the previous films, demands a previous knowledge of what you are watching. In the early stages, information and plot devices whizz past at breakneck pace, and you will need to have your wits about you to keep up. Things are eventually explained (a little too often actually), but not always as soon as you’d expect. Gilroy cleverly trusts that his audience can keep up, and this is definitely NOT a film for those looking for a brainless action flick (but then, being a Bourne film, why would you expect anything less). The Bourne Legacy is frantic, incredibly fast paced, yet painfully messy in places. The plot moves a little too fast, and there are far too many really dumb ideas that are not explained. We never learn how exactly the Outcome agents are killed (they all suddenly drop dead) and why Cross survives, the actions of Bourne are too conveniently used for a reason for Outcome being shut down, the man in the cabin at the beginning is not very well explained, and in all honesty, the plot of a dangerous secret agent hunting down his ‘power’ pills just seems rather silly.
However, this all leaves the film open for some of the usual Bourne style action and a constant battering of loud, building music. Gilroy has clearly learnt a lot, especially from director Paul Greengrass (who directed the last two Bourne films) and it is Gilroy’s clear admiration for what Greengrass did that eventually becomes the films major downfall. Legacy feels like a copy (and a weak one at that) of everything that has come before. We get the frantic roof top chase, some close combat, Hell we even get a(loooong) motorbike chase. Everything that has come before is used here, but sadly Gilroy does not have the skills of Greengrass, and the whole presentation feels painfully weak at times. Greengrass can do the shaky cam, the tension build up, the sudden burst of action, the close ups, the music, the style. Gilroy tries his best, and more often than not pulls it off, but Legacy just feels like one of Greengrass’s students has just submitted their tribute to his work. Gilroy has skills, and he is by no means a poor director (quite the opposite) but it felt like he lost control here. Where Greengrass could control and expertly handle his frantic filmmaking style, Gilroy comes across as a bit out of his depth, and the film runs away from him.
This is also the first time ever I think I have felt it necessary to complain about the shaky camera. I normally love it, but here it just got too much. Now, I could put it down to being sat quite close to the front of the screen, but I struggled to make out what was going on in much of the action sequences, and actually felt myself begin to feel a little sick from it. However, The Bourne Legacy is a smart, pumped up action film with balls and bravery, and Gilroy should be applauded for having the sheer guts to take the Bourne franchise in a new direction. It is not perfect, and no one expected it to be, but it is a thrilling, if flawed, ride from start to finish. Just remember your sick bag, and more importantly your brain.