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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I was curious how they were going to extend the Jason Bourne series after the departure of director Paul Greengrass and, more importantly, star Matt Damon. I think they took the best approach. It is neither a reboot, nor a sequel in the traditional sense. It feels more like a spinoff where it follows on from the previous three, but is its own thing. We have a new lead in rising A-lister Jeremy Renner (who, along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is in every film this year) and a new director in Tony Gilroy (who scripted the previous movies). But is this enough to justify a 4th entry? Eh…not especially.
This film just does not quite work for me. I appreciate a lot of what they were trying to do, but when I reflect on the movie, I realized that there is not much is really at stake. The basic premise is that after the events depicted in The Bourne Ultimatum, the government decides to temporally shut down all of their black-ops related programs (for fear of a public backlash). This, for some unexplained reason, involves killing all of their agents and scientists involved with the project. Aaron Cross (Renner) and a scientist (Rachel Wiesz) go on the run after both surviving their respective assassination attempts. The film then becomes a cat and mouse chase sequence with the government trying to track these two down, while these two try to find a cure for Cross’s medicine dependence (more on that below).
Compared to the earlier entries, this is really a mundane storyline. I suppose it had to be considering we are working with (mostly) all-new characters in a (mostly) all-new situation. A good portion of the film is setting the stage for this new corner of the Bourne world. Furthering the underwhelming nature of the story is that Cross never actually interacts with the main antagonist (played by an increasingly bored-looking Edward Norton) during the course of the main narrative. By the end of the movie, I could not help , but ask, “what was the point of this?”.
I like Jeremy Renner. He is a capable actor, and I really like how his Aaron Cross character is completely different form Damon’s Jason Bourne. It was probably a smart move going in this direction to lower comparisons between the two. However, he is not nearly as interesting a character as Bourne. With Bourne, there was a mystery about him because of his non-existent memory. Cross has a bizarre backstory which, while interesting in its own way, incredibly simplifies the conflict into an “us vs. the evil government”.
Speaking of which, am I the only one who notices that the bad guys in these movies (with the possible exception of the second) are not really bad guys? Sure, the government set-up these black-ops programs to do some nasty, off-the-books stuff, but they were all legally sanctioned and done with the intent of keeping America safe. Why are they portrayed as being in the wrong? But, I digress
The most unusual thing about The Bourne Legacy is that it has this unexpected science fiction element to it. The premise behind Cross is that he is taking this medication that greatly enhances his intelligence and his physical strength. Yes, the back story is that Cross (and his fellow agents) is, in essence, super-soldiers (although, I do not think the film actually uses that term).
After the overly realistic tone of the previous three movies, this seems like such a bizarre addition (then again, without it, there would be no movie). I suppose it allows the movie to have its own feel, separate from the previous three. However, it pops-up so casually and thrown in the audience’s lap that it feels out of place.
So, that is The Bourne Legacy. For an action film, it is alright. I would not race to the theaters to see it. Maybe check it out at the RedBox if you get a chance. I should mention that I had the same apathetic attitude when I saw the first Bourne movie. Maybe now that the ground has been set, a follow-up will deepen the characters and give viewers a reason to care.