I admire Tony Gilroy’s desire to depart from the Paul Greengrass methodology, that is the hyper-intense speed-fueled filmmaking which made the last two Bourne movies so memorable. Though both films were written by Mr. Gilroy, as director he opts for a consciously morose and patient style of film. Impatient audiences expectating the Greengrass thrill ride will be uncomfortable with the languid opening act, 35 minutes or so of quiet CIA-speak between politico-heavies and the sparse action before the rip-roaring finale.
The Bourne Legacy (2012) dir. Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacey Keach
By Alan Bacchus
The lengthy opening act features very little action, instead establishing Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross, as another agent, like Bourne brainwashed by another black-ops mission to be a stone-cold killer. Instead of the amnesia-induced Treadstone operation, Renner is brainwashed through a series of ‘chems’ – drugs which control his emotions, temperament, intelligence and fighting skills. And while Bourne runs amuck in the previous films, Gilroy doubles back to show how the CIA wonks move to dispose of the other assassins who might just go wild like Bourne. Of course, when Renner’s character is targeted he fights back and embarks on his own globe-trotting adventure.
Cross moves from the desolate and zen-like serenity of Alaska to Washington where he saves Rachel Weisz as Mart Shearing, a chemist who supplies him with the chems, from assassination. He then moves on to Manila where he and Shearing seek out the manufacturing plant of the chems to save Cross from shutting down into death. The baddie orchestrating the action from afar is Edward Norton, commanding the action much like Straitharn in the previous films from the ultra high-tech CIA surveillance rooms at home.
On the ground Cross is missing a main foe, other than the roll call of counter-assassins that attempt to take him down. Late in the film the introduction of an Asian super-assassin, another chemically enhanced soldier, attempts to create a climactic showdown, which unfortunately materializes into nothing particularly dramatic. Gilroy and company keep the action quick and sparse, saving his energy for the final 20 minutes, a superbly choreographed motorcycle and running chase scene through the streets of Manila.
There’s no doubt Tony Gilroy’s overtooled plotting fails this film, and the potential of having this Jeremy Renner film run parallel to the previous two Matt Damon films is intriguing. Unfortunately it never works, or it is never fully realized. In fact, the brief appearances of characters from the previous films, specifically Joan Allen’s character Pamela Landy and David Straitharn’s Noah Vossen, as well as Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine, Albert Finney and Corey Johnson, only distract us from the main action.
The Bourne Legacy is not a bad film, and without knowledge or preconceptions based on the previous three films, under any other circumstances this would be a terrific stand-alone thriller. Unfortunately, we do have expectations and inevitable comparisons we can’t get out of our minds – such is the nature of tentpole sequel filmmaking. But I do believe there’s still potential for the series with Renner as the figurehead. The producers just need to engage us with the pace and intensity of the Liman/Greengrass films.
The Bourne Legacy is available on Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.