Review: Tony Gilroy's 'Bourne Legacy' is Empty Franchise-Building
by Jeremy Kirk
August 9, 2012
There was a ton of potential for The Bourne Legacy, a film that expands the universe of the Jason Bourne films by bringing someone on the fringe of those events into the forefront. Especially with Tony Gilroy, screenwriter of the first films who comes on here as both writer & director, acting as author of the franchise, it seemed a hard-hitting and intellectually engaging film was on the way. There is some of that, but The Bourne Legacy is mostly a bunch of wheel-spinning with far less interesting action to push the excitement forward. It's the opposite of energetic and has you longing for the shaky-cam days of Paul Greengrass.
As with the previous sequels, The Bourne Legacy maneuvers itself in and out of threads left behind, events and characters who played major roles in the earlier films only serving as setup for the story told here. It's actually a much simpler story than that of a rogue agent who has lost his memory. As a result of Jason Bourne's actions, the CIA decides to disband the entire project, wiping out all of the agents they currently have in the field. One such agent is Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner. Currently stationed in the wilderness, Cross feeds himself a steady diet of agency-issued pills that enhance him physically as well as mentally. After the assumed purge, though, Cross finds himself on the run and in search of answers. Aiding in his journey is Marta Shearing, a scientist who helped administer the medication. She is played by Rachel Weisz who turns on the hysterical clueless act early and doesn't turn it off before a long time has passed.
The first hour of The Bourne Legacy does a fine job setting the players in motion. Gilroy definitely has a strong hand when it comes to writing stolid characters delivering important lines of potentially earth-shattering dialogue. The importance put on the events that take place early in the film is both heard and felt by the characters pushing the narrative.Some of it comes off as shaky exposition, the occasional moments where someone explains something they have no reason to say out loud. But it all builds nicely to what promises to be an exciting showdown between agents in the field and the pencil-pushers who send those agents on their course. That promise isn't fulfilled.
The introductions and set-up is spotted with action, much of it same fight and chase styles we've come to expect from the Bourne franchise. Gilroy shoots the fighting in such a way that you feel the jarring of peoples' heads when Renner's character slams them down on a table. The violence throughout the film is much heavier than you might expect from your typical, PG-13 actioner. There's even blood when people get shot, not a new concept for this franchise but still surprising to see in anything less than R.
Unfortunately, the last half of the film never lives up to the promise raised by its leading half. Aaron and Marta go on the run, board a plan for another country where they feel the answers to their questions lie, but it's here where everything about the film comes to a screeching halt. Instead of keeping the momentum he's established, Gilroy slows everything down, shows us every step of Aaron and Marta boarding the plane, traveling on the plane, and finding their destination on the other side. All the while, we cut back to the CIA offices, where the team of baddies, led by Edward Norton and the always welcome Stacy Keach, do nothing but check security footage for any sign of their quarry.
By the time the action decides it wants to kick back in again, we've all but lost interest, but this is also the point where Gilroy decides—or maybe this was Universal's decision—to keep so much in the dark, so many loose strands dangling that it all but requires a sequel. Seemingly gone are the days where a film, no matter how long it is—Legacy clocks in at 135 minutes—is able to ask and answer all of the questions it sees fit in asking. Gilroy's film touches on the moral implications of the choices its characters make and breezes past any emotional ties these characters might have. Aaron questions a fellow field agent, played by the always solid Oscar Isaac, about a woman he once loved. There's a moment of mystery built, but nothing comes of it. Maybe it's another set-up for the sequel.
If The Bourne Legacy is the first of a new franchise, they've certainly got the right leading man for the job. Renner is the one element to this film that works completely from beginning to end. He's an actor who often fits in perfectly with the blue collar characters, the everyday faces who can do extraordinary feats of strength that Gilroy's Bourne universe is so keen on creating. Aaron Cross is never as engaging a character as Jason Bourne, but Renner does everything in his power to keep you from begging for more Matt Damon.
There's little else to say in The Bourne Legacy's defense. Norton is always convincing even when, like here, he has very little to do but look menacingly at a computer monitor. The movie misuses CGI in the most awkward and unnecessary of ways. Seeing a guy jump down from a tree knocks you out of any sense of reality when he looks like an Elf from Lord of the Rings while doing it. There is one single shot involving Aaron scaling the side of a house that seems to do what the entire film fails at. It's something we've seen before but never quite like it's captured here, and it creates the film's only genuine sense of awe. Were there more or had the screenplay given us this same feeling, The Bourne Legacy would serve as a convincing and suitable continuance to the franchise. As empty and half-constructed as it is, though, there's very little that would make further Bourne-less missions worth taking.
Jeremy's Rating: 5 out of 10