Mark Reviews Movies

The Bourne Legacy


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tony Gilroy

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and action sequences)

Running Time: 2:15

Release Date: 8/10/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 9, 2012

One can sense the screenplay by director Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy struggling to fit the story of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) into the world of Robert Ludlum's spy Jason Bourne throughout The Bourne Legacy. There is no apparent reason that Cross' story be tied to Bourne's except for name recognition. Cross is a genetically engineered soldier who knows his past and has no moral qualms about it. Oddly, he's even more of a blank slate than the amnesiac character who provides the springboard for this lackadaisical spin-off.

Cross is not the biggest problem with the movie, although he is a considerable one. Renner is an actor who can ooze the potential for danger in even the most ordinary of acts, and there are flashes of that quality here. The most noteworthy one comes when he grabs a possible ally by the face and stares her straight in the eyes, functioning as his own lie detector. Soon after, there's a moment when he matter-of-factly tells her that, if she will be of no help to him, he would be just fine with leaving her behind to her own fate, which, given the circumstances, would more than likely be death. In fact, he adds, he might be better off following her as she goes off to die; the person who winds up killing her might have the information he needs anyway.

Otherwise, there's very little to Cross than his ability and necessity to flee from people trying to kill him; he's essentially the MacGuffin of his own story. Everything revolves around him, yet we have only a passing idea of who he is or what his significance might be.

The first act of the movie spends an inordinate amount of time with events from the previous installment in the franchise. Scenes replay wholesale, and new characters, like Eric Byer (Edward Norton) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) of the shadowy National Research Assay, have whole conversations iterating information about Bourne's destructive adventures in New York City in darkened dens, claustrophobic conference rooms, and technologically advanced control rooms.

In the meantime, Cross is in training in the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska (Our first glimpse of him repeats the floating man motif of the first movie, and a great pull-back shot that moves from a close-up of his face to the expanse of the environment surrounding him is rife with possibility). Most of the little we learn about Cross comes from his experience here: He's a genetically modified super-agent who must take a daily regimen of pills to keep his increased physical and cognitive capacities, and he's also a man who plays by his own rules, given that he's only in Alaska as punishment and that he scales a mountain that is not part of the training.

Eventually, the two plot threads of Cross and the government agencies come together. An upcoming hearing in Congress causes Byer to terminate the program of which Cross is a part with extreme prejudice. Cross survives (taking out a drone with a rifle, which Byer makes sure everyone knows is a "high-powered" one) and fakes his death (In an odd sequence that has him killing two birds with one stone—specifically, a tracking device and an aggressive wolf), but he is now without the medication he needs. For that, he decides to track down Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who performed his routine checkups.

There is a long expositional slog of trying to connect the movie to its predecessors, and it does the material no favors. By the time the screenplay establishes the routine cat-and-mouse game as Cross and Marta travel to the Philippines to obtain a way to make Cross' genetic upgrades permanent, whatever tension could have been present in the chase has faded. Byer and his team spend a majority of their time playing catch-up with information we already know, and Cross and Marta have such a huge head start that there is really no threat to their progression. There's a last-minute villain (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a member of another experimental program who has been cleansed of empathy (and impact, for that matter), and he transparently exists as an excuse for a motorcycle chase through the streets of Manila.

The series is notable for its impressive stunts, and the movie falls short in that arena, too. Gilroy assembles the climactic chase in a herky-jerky manner that obfuscates what's happening, and an attack on old house is only memorable for a single shot of Cross climbing the side of the building and through a window before taking out one of the assailants. Indeed, the only truly intense sequence is a shooting in a laboratory—scored only by ambient tones, gunshots, and screams—that is genuinely disturbing.

The need to link this story to the ones before it is understandable (From a marketing perspective, it's mandatory), but it's also a massive weight on the movie's shoulders. If the series is to continue with this character, though, it will only survive by establishing its own identity (no pun intended). In other words, it will need to separate itself from everything the title The Bourne Legacy implies.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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