Hollywood has been all about sequels for a while now. It’s gotten to the point where most major releases are sequels; the top grossing films of the year, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, are both sequels. The Avengers less so I suppose, but chronologically, Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to set all the individual characters’ films after the events of The Avengers. Hollywood isn’t the only industry guilty of this dearth of original content; the video games industry is also at a point where it is experiencing a glut of sequel releases, the most offensive being the yearly Call of Duty games. The film industry has done one worse, however: They’ve gone so far as to greenlight sequels of brilliant, older films that many consider to be completely standalone. I’m looking at you, Blade Runner sequel. I will not watch you, because you will suck. It’s just a fact of life. Ranting aside, this weekend I watched a film that many, including myself, considered to be a somewhat unnecessary sequel. The folks responsible for the original Bourne trilogy, namely star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, both refused to come back for this sequel. Instead, Bourne scripter Tony Gilroy and series newcomer Jeremy Renner take the reins of this franchise and attempt to breathe more life into it. The question is, were they successful?
The Bourne Legacy tells the tale of Aaron Cross, another super-spy who’s part of a separate CIA-sanctioned program from the Treadstone organization that Jason Bourne was a part of. Cross is an agent of Operation Outcome, who differ from their Treadstone counterparts in that they are given mental and physical enhancements via drugs known as “chems.” The fallout of the Bourne trilogy results in the CIA higher-ups deciding to dispose of all of their black ops, resulting in an order to terminate all Operation Outcome operatives. This sets up the conflict, as Cross tries to avoid being killed by the CIA on a dwindling supply of chems.
Renner is probably the biggest highlight and draw of this film. He’s a very talented actor whom I first saw in The Hurt Locker, and whom I also enjoyed in Ben Affleck’s The Town and last year’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. He’s a surprisingly charismatic actor despite his sometimes gruff deliveries. His work here is absolutely magnetic; he invests you in the story of Cross even if you were on the fence about this whole movie. What makes his character different from Damon’s, and arguably more interesting, is the fact that he is far more emotional. He portrays Cross as someone simply more relatable than Bourne, who in The Bourne Identity was a blank slate, and even after all that happened in that film, became more of a cold operative in the following Bourne films. Cross is described early on in the film as someone who “talks too much” and “asks too many questions.” A single line of dialogue, which mentions that Operation Outcome agents are more emotional than their Treadstone counterparts, elaborates this further. In my opinion, this allows his character to be more humanized than Bourne, and the fact that Renner had a few amusing back-and-forths, as well as emotional exchanges, with Rachel Weisz’s character didn’t hurt either.
Meanwhile, Weisz as the female lead was disappointing. She isn’t as good as Franka Potente was in the first Bourne film, despite her best efforts. Her character was just extremely thin, and I was annoyed to see they utilized a scene in this film that was similar to Potente and Damon’s motel scene in the first Bourne film. Simply put, there just wasn’t any chemistry between the leads. Renner put forth his best effort, but I just wasn’t entirely sure throughout whether or not Weisz’s Dr. Shearing was supposed to be a love interest or just along for the ride.
Edward Norton was similarly under-utilized as the film’s primary antagonist. It turns out that his character is even higher up than all the players from the previous films—the director of the CIA himself. His character’s motivations seemed reasonable considering the huge mess his underlings created in the last three films, but Norton’s execution was nothing great. For a talent as great as Norton to be only used in a cursory, coasting type of performance is a complete waste. Beyond these main three characters, there were no exceptional supporting roles.
The main problem with this film is definitely the script. Writer/director Tony Gilroy, who penned the excellent scripts of the previous Bourne films, seems to indulge himself a little too much now that he is in the director’s seat. There is simply too much time spent explaining plot details, and there is very little action. That’s right: This is a Bourne movie with only a handful of action scenes, and the pacing is so bad that they feel like they’re extremely far apart. The film as a whole simply dragged, and I found myself yawning often during what was supposed to be the film’s climactic chase sequence. Speaking of the chase sequence, the Bourne trilogy is known for its excellent chase scenes, which is why it was such a disappointment to see the chase scene in this film fall so flat. The worst part about it was that it served as the film’s climax and the final action sequence, so it felt like the whole film had been building up to something that wound up being more than a little subpar when compared to Greengrass’s, and even Liman’s, chase scenes in the previous films.
As for the remaining action sequences, Gilroy is simply unable to create any iconic hand-to-hand fights for Cross. In the previous films, Bourne fought with agents who had the same training as him, whereas Cross is only given lackeys to do battle with. He handles them with ease, of course, and the super agent sent to take him out is disposed of quickly in the film’s final chase scene, rather than in a hand-to-hand fight. The Bourne Supremacy showcases one of my favorite action scenes in film: the scene where Damon does battle with another Treadstone agent in Munich, using a rolled up magazine as a weapon. Nothing in Legacy compares to this or the similar fights in the Bourne trilogy. That alone is one of the major disappointments of the film. What Gilroy does do well, however, is allow the cinematography to convey the action scenes in a clean, non-distracting, and even beautiful manner. Greengrass’s shaky cam amped up the tension but made some fight scenes difficult to follow, whereas Gilroy’s scenes have plenty of depth and fast movements are captured and related to the viewer with ease. The camera work during Legacy’s end chase sequence was particularly well done. Finally, the score of this film was also slightly disappointing considering I am fond of the music from the other Bourne movies. I did really like Moby’s remix of his own “Extreme Ways” at the end of the film, however.
I’m getting really bored of Hollywood’s sequelitis. Seriously, I was really looking forward to this film! I love the Bourne trilogy; it’s what made me like Damon as an actor, it’s what made me appreciate shaky cam as an actual filming technique, and it’s what made me realize that there can still be spy films outside of James Bond that are intelligent to boot. This wasn’t a bad action movie; it was an extremely disposable one. What it mainly was, though, was an extreme disappointment to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Bourne movies or even the Robert Ludlum novels. I can only really recommend this if you’re a big fan of Renner, otherwise it’s probably not worth your time or money. I’d say hold off until Skyfall for a spy movie that will wow you. Bond is back, baby!