It’s been five years since we got the supposed finale to the Bourne Identity trilogy, an underrated, high-octane, all around tour de force starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, the human test project gone wrong. Amnesia, hand-to-hand combat, and shaky cams were featured prominently in the three films, the first directed by Doug Liman, and the other two by Paul Greengrass. Tony Gilroy was a screenwriter on the first three films and this time around, he adds director to the resume’ (it’s his third directorial effort – he did really well with Michael Clayton and not so well with Duplicity). What is probably most surprising, other than the fact that the action film is more talk than action, is that Gilroy has seemingly forgotten the successful recipe from the original films and instead created something much closer to fast food than a gourmet meal.
Jeremy Renner stars as Aaron Cross, another super spy like Bourne (he’s a part of Operation Outcome, one of the CIA’s black ops programs) only he is fully aware of his personal situation. The film begins with him on a training mission in the snowy mountains of Alaska, climaxes in the Philippines, and ends, where else, on a boat. In between, we visit South Korea, New York, and beautiful Bethesda, Maryland (shout out to the East Coast family!). The tour guide is frenetic at the beginning, as the film jumps back and forth so quickly that it was a good hour in when I leaned over to my girlfriend (who had not seen any of the original three) and said “It’s okay, I have no idea what’s going on either.” However, it’s not really a situation of mystery or intrigue – it feels more like a plot that’s so heavy-handed that it fails in getting some of the most basic answers out clearly.
To say that I was disappointed, I suppose, would be an understatement. I remember the original Bourne trilogy to be an intense series, one where even when Matt Damon wasn’t kicking ass (and he kicked crazy amounts of ass) the conversations that were going on behind the scenes were tense, leaving you hanging on every word. And here, we get a whole of talky-talk and it often feels like we’re merely peeping a slightly more important conversation then the one we were having outside of the theater before we walked in. For example, there’s one scene featuring Rachel Weisz’s Dr. Shearing being “psychoanalyzed” at her house that seems endless (and renders itself mostly pointless when all is said and done). In fact, most of Weisz’s role felt endless and pointless – feelings of empathy and concern for the character turn to apathy as she does little except for whine and act scared. I understand you’re scared. But right now, you’re just driving in a car with a badass spy. I think you can calm down just a bit.
Renner is easily the best part of the film, as they gave him a few opportunities to have some wit and humor throughout the film. Scenes where he isn’t present tend to drag and when he isn’t yelling about needing his “chems” (a new wrinkle – the agents are apparently taking pills that help them both mentally and physically, and the film is essentially entirely about Renner trying to find more since he ran out while he was in Alaska) he was an acceptable replacement for Matt Damon. But there’s definitely something missing. I thought maybe once Edward Norton showed up, things would improve, but he’s underused and serves little purpose, as we don’t really get any closure surrounding his character, as the film inevitably sets itself up for more films.
While I’m bringing up the original series yet again, let me say that it’s completely fair to compare this film to the first three Bourne films for two main reasons: 1) the fact that the name Bourne is right there in the title and 2) Gilroy continues to throw little things at us from the original series, be it cameos from original cast members (Joan Allen’s name appears on the movie poster and has a whopping 30 seconds of screen time, same goes for Albert Finney, and David Strathairn even shows up for a scene too) or the constant mentions of Jason Bourne. Aaron lays in a cot in Alaska, looking up at the wood above him, which is covered with carvings of names, obviously the men who have laid in that cot before him. The camera brushes past Jason Bourne once and you figure, okay, they don’t want it to be obvious, that’s cool. But then it zooms in on the name, highlighting it ever so gently, basically telling you “Look, Jason Bourne! Remember him!?!” Yes, I remember him. And I miss him. Hell, even the very first shot of the film is of a man in water, face-down, not moving… and then he begins swimming. Sound familiar? In this film, it turns out to be Aaron of course, but the nudge-nudge by Gilroy is unmistakeable.
I could continue on in this nature, but I think you get the gist. As a standalone action film, it is only average, as the action is surprisingly minimal and the dialogue is menial and dull. And as a Bourne film, it’s well below average and that name right there in the title means that this particular film gets graded on a curve, but not one that Gilroy and Company would hope for. A higher standard of action/spy movies was carved out by Greengrass, Damon, and Gilroy himself when they put together that fantastic series which was filled with intensity and excitement. This films lacks both of those aspects – I felt every single minute of the 125 minute run-time. It’s a slow, disappointing addition to a catalog that couldn’t be further from that description. And because of that, The Bourne Legacy suffers, falling flat on its face, leaving me wanting more, but sadly not in the way I had hoped going into it.