Upon seeing The Dark Knight Rises, a friend (and That Essence Rare blog reader) and I discussed the best trilogies of all time. Christopher Nolan’s work with The Dark Knight approaches the top of my list, as do Lord of the Rings and The Godfather (yes, the third one is the disliked and underperforming red-headed stepchild of the three, but it’s still better than most children out there, ok? The third was nominated for Best Picture after all). Star Wars is not my thing because George Lucas can’t write his way out of a paper bag filled with Ewoks, but I respect it as a top choice for its groundbreaking approaches to film and its genre. As I started to think more, maybe The Bourne Identity movies should be considered. Well-acted, well-written, sharp, taut, and entertaining (even to those who can’t handle director Paul Greengrass’s handheld camera style that worked brilliantly in United 93), the Jason Bourne movies guaranteed high-level entertainment. While The Bourne Legacy has its highlights and entertaining scenes, it, sadly, does not live up to those admittedly high expectations.
The Bourne Legacy is an occasionally entertaining film and many will find its thrills and chases entertaining summer fun with a bit of added interest for the pharmacists in the audience. The film’s brief focus on other secret agents inflitrating North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan would make a fascinating film on its own, but it is relegated to a sub-plot that is quickly dispensed with.
The film’s main weakness is that the filmmakers refuse to let the new film stand for itself. Jeremy Renner is not tasked to be Jason Bourne but, rather, another highly-trained and over-medicated killing machine engineered by the U.S. government. Constant references to Jason Bourne and better plot lines from the first three films keep this fourth installment always in the shadow of its better predecessors. If you’re going to take the film in a new direction, stop setting it up as if Matt Damon is about to smash through the closest window and take control of the film. (Sorry, he doesn’t.)
Renner is a talented, Oscar-nominated actor coming off a great ten months (Mission: Impossible 4, The Avengers) and offers a new, scrappier version of a Bourne-like character in the same way Daniel Craig brought a new, scrappier version of James Bond. Both actors in their respective franchise re-boots usually hold their own, but, in action films, no man is an island — unless that island is booby-trapped with transforming alien robots that spit fire and eye-roll-inducing quips. A supporting cast filled with Oscar winners (Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Albert Finney) should not be so disengaging, whether they are keeping track of Renner’s character (Norton, Finney) or going along for the occasionally bumpy ride (Weisz). Norton has now replaced his tag “a less-good Hulk, compared to Mark Ruffalo” with “a less-good CIA boss, compared to Joan Allen.” Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It’s also interesting to see Weisz’s scientist character as just a panoply of whining and helpless action female stereotypes, especially after her film last year, The Whistleblower, which was the true story of a Nebraska cop who fights sex trafficking and promotes female empowerment.
But no one goes to an action movie for the acting or moral message. The Bourne Legacy starts slowly and intelligently in the arctic and offers explosive moments throughout, but also gets bogged-down by talking. That would be good if the dialogue and plot lines weren’t so repetitive. Chase scenes across the roofs of buildings bring to mind the raging sport of parkour, but without parkour athletes’ oddly common grey sweatpants. The main thrill of the film is an extended foot/car/motorcycle chase sequence filled with thrills, chills, jeers, and other emotions to keep you from wondering why the movie is two hours but feels longer. It’s a great set of scenes and shows that the filmmakers did not waste the original trilogy’s smart use of constant action. Still, even after the most entertaining and engaging moments, viewers’ minds will likely wander back to the better days of the original Jason Bourne trilogy.