It’s always an interesting move when a franchise decides to reboot itself with a new star. In some ways it is risky, especially if the departing actor has a somewhat iconic attachment with the role and/or the series. However, the 007/James Bond series has managed to replace the main character of their franchise not just once, but multiple times, with little to no difficulty. Before Christian Bale donned the cape, there were plenty of different actors who were Batman. This summer we received our new Spiderman. So in theory, it should work and in practice it mostly does. Audiences adapt as long as the product put up on the screen is good.
I really enjoyed the original three Bourne films – they were fast paced and full of action. They also mark a very special turning point in my life, as it was during The Bourne Identity that I first fell in love with Matt Damon. I was well aware of him well before the Bourne series, of course; once he made his big splash with Good Will Hunting, I had seen most of his work and had liked him. But for whatever reason, I had thrown my lot in with Ben Affleck and at the time it felt like you could only really like one guy or the other. It makes no sense in retrospect, but at the time there was definitely “Team Ben” and “Team Matt.” And because Affleck seemed to be the bigger bad boy of the two of them, he was my guy. But then along came the Bourne series and I switched my loyalty. I saw Damon in a whole different light and there was no turning back. He’s now one of my favorite actors and I’ll see just about anything that he’s been in. I still like Affleck, but my loyalty is 100% Matt Damon.
So going in to The Bourne Legacy, the bar was set pretty high. Could Jeremy Renner, who I’ve been a fan of since SWAT, step in and fill Damon’s shoes? Was he up to shouldering an entire movie? Would the franchise still be fresh enough for the audience to care about another Bourne-like character? Was there still a story to be told? Clearly, I had a lot of questions.
Ultimately, The Bourne Legacy just can’t live up to the hype. While Renner is more than a worthy successor to the franchise, poor pacing and storytelling ultimately hold this film back from being truly great. It is very good, but it is definitely the weakest entry in the franchise.
The Bourne Legacy deals with the aftermath of the action that occurred in The Bourne Ultimatum. After Jason Bourne exposes the Treadstone program, which is “only the tip of the iceberg,” the government (led by Ed Norton) decides to dismantle all their black ops programs rather than face additional exposure. That’s bad news for the field agents in these programs, as they are systematically assassinated. Unfortunately for the government, Agent Aaron Cross is able to elude execution. Cross is part of a special program (Outcome) that increases the agents’ physical and cognitive abilities through medication. Cross is uninterested in returning to his unaltered state and is trapped not only in a battle survival, but a quest for more pills. In some ways, The Bourne Legacy really boils down to the story of a junkie looking for his next fix. His only hope is the assistance of a government scientist (Rachel Weisz), who worked on Outcome and is therefore also possibly at risk.
The main problem with The Bourne Legacy is that it moves at the pace of an iceberg. The movie gets far too bogged down in the bureaucracy and science in the first half and the result is that the film feels much longer than it actually is. I looked at my watch a lot. It takes far too long for the action to really pick up; an hour into the film, I was wondering when anything exciting was going to happen. I could have done with a lot less time in the government war room and more time spent on the Cross’ journey. There is a lot of time watching people watching events on monitors that we just saw unfold in real time. When things finally get going, it is fairly exciting, but far too much time is squandered to make the eventual payoff worth the wait. Ultimately I wanted less science, more explosions and chases. That’s really a good motto for life.
Even with all the deliberation in the first half of the film, there were some plot points that were still muddy or unclear. Admittedly, I was at a midnight show and the effects of too much sushi and a few cocktails earlier in the evening may have taken their toll on my cognitive ability. But I found myself with some questions that I wasn’t sure I had any answers to. There weren’t any huge plot holes, but if you are going to devote so much time to explaining things, the writers really should have done a better job of it. It was muddy at best in some areas.
It would have been nice if they had also spent a little more time developing the character of Aaron Cross. Even with Jason Bourne’s memory loss in the earlier films, I feel like the viewer knew more about him and his personality that we do about Cross. We gets some hints of an interesting back story, which help explain why Cross is so desperate to stay in his current enhanced state, but I would have enjoyed just a little more character development. If we are supposed to root for Cross, it would be nice if we cared a little more about him. Perhaps they are planning to unveil more about him in later films, assuming the franchise continues.
The failings of the film are in no way a reflection on Jeremy Renner, who I thought did an excellent job. On the surface, Renner isn’t exactly the picture of a covert operative. But as he has demonstrated in his roles in The Avengers and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, looks can be deceiving. There is a scrappiness to Renner and he continues to rise to the challenges presented. He enhances the admittedly sparse backstory and when the action finally picks up, he kicks some serious butt. If they are able to address some of the pacing and plot issues, I would be more than willing to sign up for additional films starring Renner. He’s not the problem with the film and I hope that the powers that be realize that.
Some other thoughts:
- I’m not as familiar with Rachel Weisz’s body of work outside The Mummy films, but she’s fine as the scientist suddenly thrown into a world of chaos. She’s not required to do a lot in the action sequences other than run, but that seems pretty realistic. She isn’t a covert operative, just a lady in a lab coat.
- There is a scene early in the film involving a pack of wolves in the snow, so of course I couldn’t help but think of Liam Neeson in The Grey. Now THAT would have been a cool cameo.
- If you are going to show a picture of Jason Bourne in the film, use a better picture than what looks to be a bad Driver’s License photo. Matt Damon deserved better.
- I think Renner’s wilderness beard kind of grew on me.
- I probably would have benefited from a quick refresher on the first three Bourne movies; there were a few references to things that happened in the earlier films that made me realize despite my enjoyment of those films, I’d forgotten some of what transpired. I wish I’d seen this article on Vulture beforehand.
- Zeljko Ivanek has played plenty of roles, most of them pretty shady, but he will always be ASA Ed Danvers (Homicide: Life on the Streets) to me.
- One definite improvement over The Bourne Ultimatum – a lot less of the herky-jerky camera work. I really liked Ultimatum, but I was starting to feel a little sick during some of the action sequences from all the quick cuts.
- No babies during this screening. We did have a 7 year old boy whose annoyance potential was pretty high, but he settled down once the movie started.
- We saw a trailer for the new Clint Eastwood film I’m very excited about, Trouble With the Curve, which debuts on my birthday. I’m a total sucker for movies about baseball and I generally like Eastwood and Amy Adams. I’m cautiously optimistic about Justin Timberlake’s involvement.
- If they do continue with the franchise, I wonder if they will continue to use the Bourne name. I understand why they are using it – obvious brand recognition – but at some point it is going to be kind of a stretch to continue to reference a character no longer involved in the plot. However, if they are wedded to the idea, may I suggest the next installment be called Bourne to Run?
- The entire motorcycle scene was pretty bad ass. Motorcycles scare me – I’ve only been on one once and I was terrified – so that only added additional adrenaline to my viewing experience. Plus Renner looks pretty amazing on a motorcycle. This should be his vehicle of choice.
I ultimately enjoyed The Bourne Legacy once the movie got rolling. But the first half of the film is just way too slow for this to be a great film. Renner and company do the best with what they are given, but we spend far too much time with Ed Norton and the other government decision makers and not enough time with the actual star of the film. Worth seeing, but unfortunately not up to the caliber of the first three films.
The Bourne Legacy opens nationwide today.