Friday, August 31, 2012

Movie – The Bourne Legacy (2012)

There were some big questions going into this fourth movie in the Bourne franchise.  The biggest was whether people would go see a Bourne movie that didn’t star Matt Damon.  Results on that are still mixed as I write this.  It’s not doing anywhere near the box office of the last Bourne movie, but that had a built in audience.  It is tracking roughly like the first Bourne movie where people had to be convinced Matt Damon could be an action star.  One place where this fourth film is far better than the prior one is the fact that movie audiences can actually see what the hell is happening in the action sequences.  For that and other reasons, I consider this the second best of the Bourne movies.

I am a big fan of the first Bourne movie.  I thought it did a really good job of injecting new blood into the action thriller genre.  Even though the stories in the following movies were just as good, I became increasingly frustrated with the second and third movies because of new director Paul Greengrass’ decision to use extreme shakycam cinematography.  Damon and others spent weeks learning fighting moves, stunt men spent weeks planning out car chases, and all of that gets wasted because the action scenes that ended up in the movies cannot even be followed because the camera is bouncing around so much.  Contrast this with Oceans Eleven where Damon did such a good job picking the pocket of Andy Garcia’s character that they actually slowed the film down so people could follow it and appreciate the skill Damon brought to the scene.

For The Bourne Legacy, Greengrass is out as director.  The important thing is that the same writer for the prior three movies is still on board, so the storyline is just as good as those.  Even better is that this man – Tony Gilroy – has moved into directing his own scripts (i.e. Michael Clayton) since the last Bourne movie.  This means that the same man who is responsible for the story is also responsible for presenting it to the audience.  Now I don’t want to mislead anyone; there is still some shakycam in this film.  It is nowhere near the level of Greengrass’ one-step-removed-from-setting-the-camera-on-a-paint-mixer shakycam, though.  You can actually see Renner’s moves as he fights various bad guys.  You can actually follow all the near misses in the climactic motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Manila.

Speaking of that chase, it really was Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz on the motorcycle for some of the scenes.  According to an interview he gave, this was the stunt that worried Renner the most.  Not because he was worried about himself, but because he was completely responsible for the safety of Weisz, who was riding on the bike with him.  After being told this, Weisz said it was probably a good thing she didn’t know this during filming because she was already terrified enough being on the back of the bike.  She said all her reactions in those scenes were real; she wasn’t acting.

You may be wondering how this movie fits in with the prior three.  In this one, operative Aaron Cross (Renner) is from a second generation government program.  Jason Bourne was from a first generation one.  While Bourne’s program was designed to remove emotions in the operative, Cross’ is designed to improve the operative both physically and intellectually through the use of DNA-altering chemicals.  It doesn’t make them Superman, or even Captain America, but it does make them just a little bit better than a regular person.

As we see in other scenes, a man named Byer (Edward Norton) has been brought in to essentially clean up the mess that is being caused by Jason Bourne.  As he digs into both Bourne’s and Cross’ programs, he decides on a complete cover-up.  He will eliminate every piece of evidence linking the U.S. government to these operations.  This is made more difficult by the fact that Bourne is causing havoc in New York.  (This film apparently overlaps events from the third film.)

Getting rid of all evidence includes getting rid of all operatives and support staff.  Cross manages to survive the attempt on his life - by capturing a wolf by hand and putting his tracker on it, no less.  Among the scientists, only Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz playing another one of her “hot librarian” roles) manages to survive a shooter in her lab.  While at her home afterwards, she is saved by Cross when there is a second attempt on her life.  He needs her because he is running out of the “chems” that he takes to maintain his physical and mental abilities.

There’s one big problem; she doesn’t have any.  The facility that manufactures them is in Manila.  Cross and Shearing, both of whom are presumed dead, must somehow make their way out of the U.S., into The Philippines, into the lab, do a procedure which I won’t spoil, and get away before anyone knows what is happening.  Meanwhile, Byers is still trying to track down exactly what happened at Shearing’s home during the second attempt to eliminate her.

One of the things I really liked about these scenes with Byers is that there isn’t some magic computer program that just locates someone anywhere on the planet like you see in so many movies and on so many cop shows.  No, while there are many computers put to use, the method is still sheer brute force.  They crunch every bit of security cam footage they can get from a dozen airports trying to locate a person.  Once they do they try to follow where the person has gone, did they have anyone with them, etc.  Each time they do they are figuratively getting closer and closer to finding out where Cross and Shearing are in real time.  This is a different kind of “chase scene” and I thought it added some good tension to the movie.

I poked around on IMDB and the biggest complaints about this movie seem to be:

1.  Matt Damon’s not in this?  That sucks!
2.  Jeremy Renner isn’t as good as Matt Damon
3.  The movie just ends.  What happens after that?

For the people who fall into the first camp, I have little sympathy.  If you paid ten bucks to go see a movie based solely on the fact it had the word “Bourne” in the title, then you get what you deserve.  By the way, there are appearances by Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, and Joan Allen in their roles from the third movie.  Damon only appears on screen in a photo, and there are a couple of references to the events he is triggering while Cross is having his parallel story in this film.

As for Damon or Renner being better, I see it as apples and oranges.  This isn’t like Daniel Craig taking over the Bond franchise so you can compare his take on the character to that of other actors.  This is a different actor playing a different character.  Aaron Cross is not Jason Bourne and should not be played that way.  Renner does a smart thing by not trying to ape Damon’s performance.  As for which of them makes a better action star, I have no problem accepting Renner in the role.  People forget that there were a lot of questions about Damon as an action star before the first Bourne movie.

And for those who felt the ending of this film left everyone hanging, try to remember the first Bourne movie.  The ending of this fourth film is very similar to the ending of the first one.  It resolves the story in this movie and leaves the door open for additional movies.

Do you have to have seen the prior three films to understand what is going on in this one?  I would answer that with a qualified “no.”  While there are references to events from the prior films, they are not essential to understanding what is happening with the Cross character in this movie.  Having a knowledge of the prior films will definitely give you a better depth of understanding during all the government agency scenes, though.  If you like the prior Bourne films, or smarter action films in general, then I recommend you give this one a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

           DVD                      Blu-ray


  1. Not so keen on this myself, but I don't think I fall into any of the camps you mentioned. I may fall into number two, but I blame the character rather than the performer.

    The main issue for me is that film lacked tension and Shearing made for a very boring companion.

    That said, the 132 minute running time went by briskly enough.

    1. I went to go post the link for this on the LAMB's board, but it was gone. I then checked and they had just posted the LAMB Scores for this film. I looked and there was a wide range, from four stars to 1 star, for this film. It appears to have generated some quite diverse opinions. Thanks for sharing yours.

  2. Nice review Chip. Is it as memorable as the franchise that came before it? No, but what really makes this film even slightly memorable is that it’s very thrilling, has a fun time with itself, and also features plenty of great characters that I would like to hold onto for a whole new franchise. Hopefully that actually happens though.

    1. "features plenty of great characters that I would like to hold onto for a whole new franchise"

      Agreed. The fact that one of the complaints is that people wanted to find out what was going to happen to them after this film ended indicates that others feel the same way. Thanks.