Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy
The Charlotte Observer
“There was never just one.” In those five words, the tagline for “The Bourne Legacy,” we see why the superficially exciting film is so dispensable.
Audiences formed an emotional connection to Matt Damon’s troubled character in the three movies about Jason Bourne. We followed him with anxiety, then sympathy and finally satisfaction.
Yet if there can be two Bourne-style heroes smashing their way through similar stories, why not 10? Why not 20? Why not an infinite series of them, punching and kicking interchangeably, each with the plastic inhumanity of a Lego soldier waiting to be tossed back into his cardboard box?
The new superwarrior, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), has almost no past. He’s done something shameful in some war and apparently abandoned an unseen girl, but he’s back in training for his next job, taking blue pills that make him more intelligent and green ones that enhance his physical skills.
His bosses at the National Research Assay Group have decided to whack all black ops soldiers under their command, in case any of them wig out and embarrass the government as Bourne has done. (This film takes place at the same time as “The Bourne Ultimatum.” We see reporter Simon Ross gunned down again and hear that vengeful Jason Bourne has come back to New York.)
Cross goes on the run with the doctor (Rachel Weisz) who can keep him on his meds. Trouble is, those are made only in the Philippines. Now begins the endless, violent, badly edited pursuit.
Tony Gilroy has worked on all four “Bourne” screenplays, this one with younger brother Dan. But Tony Gilroy has never directed slam-bang action, and the longest sequence is laughably clumsy: Cross and the doc flee a killer in Manila wearing a white suit and sunglasses, a guy James Bond would have brushed off in the 1960s like a horsefly.
The movie cuts back and forth between the two protagonists mowing down cops and CIA gunmen and a bunch of suits sitting in a room back in Washington, barking, “Get me those airport videos! Check the IDs of every passenger on that plane!”
We’re also expected to remember everything that has happened in the other Bourne pictures. People gabble about “Treadstone” and “Black Briar”; characters played by Joan Allen and Albert Finney in the other movies speak a sentence or two in this one. But if you can’t recall what you saw five years ago, you’ll be lost; the filmmakers don’t help.
Weisz delivers a vivid performance in a part with virtually no back story. She’s a researcher without a personal life, a cog in the scientific wheel that produced these supermen, a woman who does highly classified work without wondering how or why. But as tragedy settles around her, and the doctor’s emotions come to the fore, she doesn’t trigger a similarly strong emotional response in us. There’s simply no way to feel anything, except mild stirrings of pity, for these undefined characters.
Renner gives yet another of his calm, angry, intense performances. (I have seen him in nine movies, and I can’t remember hearing him laugh once.) Nobody does “grimly concentrated” better; he’s more appealing than his enemies only because we know they’re creeps and are trying to whack him.
Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Donna Murphy have the unenviable duty of leading the hunt for Cross from the glass offices in D.C. Using actors of their caliber to play these parts is like hiring Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin to paint a pet door.
The worst thing about the picture is that the people involved all seem to realize it’s generic. The music sounds like a knockoff from TV cop shows of the 1970s. Whenever the characters go to a new location, it’s typed on the screen: After they announce they’re going to Manila, and the plane lands, we read “Manila.” (It’s moviemaking for dummies.) This picture is, and inevitably feels like, a take-the-money-and-run assignment for all.
Paul Greengrass directed the second and third Jason Bourne films brilliantly but refused to go on, joking that any fourth installment would have to be called “The Bourne Redundancy.” Little did he know how true that would turn out to be.