The Bourne Legacy – 2012

Director Tony Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Stacey Keach, Donna Murphy, Željko Ivanek
Written by Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy

It wasn’t until many years after the fact that this reviewer discovered that there had been a 3rd Smokey and the Bandit released.  Lacking Burt Reynolds (aside from a cameo), Sally Field, and a coherent story it failed to net even 1/3 of the cost of making it.  The plot ranged from convoluted to stupid, and the people who came back were not the people that mattered.  The film series died at that point.

After Matt Damon stated that he was not interested in making another Bourne film, many wondered why the producers persisted.  Watching the film add new life and purpose through actual plot development and the insertion of an excellent actor who took the role of the government spook in a different but equally enthralling direction, one can appreciate the decision.

The plot of The Bourne Legacy is, perhaps, it’s best asset.  Taking place during the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, the story picks up in the midst of an evolution of the trained assassin program (known by many names) from which Jason Bourne emerged.  Aaron Cross (Renner) is one of the new generation.  These assassins have a trait afflicted upon them which simultaneously makes them more lethal, and more easily disposed of, should they go rogue.

As he is completing the training program, the actions of Bourne and Pamela Landy (Allen) has made the public aware of Blackbriar and Treadstone, making subsequent and current projects a liability.  CIA Director Kramer (Glenn) assigns Eric Byer (Norton) to take care of the residuals, and one can guess what this means.

Across the country, the laboratory scientists of the chemical controls are also targeted for elimination. In a combination of luck and affection, one of the scientists, Marta Shearing (Weisz), survives.  Shortly there after, as the powers that be come down around her, she is rescued by Cross, who immediately begins to work with her to unravel the mystery of how to not only break the chains of Cross’ existence, but escape the clutches of their pursuers.

The film style is intense, if less jarring than its predecessors.  Gilroy keeps things moving with a touch more eloquence.  This is integral to figuring out what is happening.  To the discerning viewer, it is easy enough to figure out, but for those just looking for fights and explosions, those are covered as well.

The opening scenes for Cross take a while to unfold, almost to the point of boredom.  This is in part to allow the antagonists to formulate their plan and explain why they need to do their bad guy stuff.  In short, it’s, you know, for the good of the country.

The exposition is worth going through, because, once things get going, the pace is such that you won’t have much time to learn on the run.  The time taken in exposition while on the run is exceptionally well spent, showing the excellence in casting both Renner and Weisz.

Renner’s Cross could not be more different from Bourne (or any of the other assassins, for that matter) and this works well.  He comes across much like Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn.  His comfort in discourse is unsettling to many in the field, but he integrates well with Weisz.  This is a refreshing continuance of a theme expressed in the earlier films, where women are seen as equals who offer something to the solution of every situation.  It takes a lot of confidence to not come across as though a woman is privileged to work with you.  For all of his loquaciousness, Renner has confidence to spare.

Weisz has always been a mixed bag.  She can be annoying as hell (The Mummy) or she can be competence and grace personified (The Mummy Returns, About A Boy).  This film shows the latter, better version.  Her performance is vulnerable, strong, intelligent and resourceful.  Her chemistry with Renner is more fully integrated than  Bourne and either of his two counterparts, if for no other reason than Bourne’s introverted nature prevented many two-way exchanges.  No such problems here.

Norton does an exemplary job walking the line of ethics and exigency.  This is the best performance he’s given since Fight Club, even if it is restrained to the hilt.  The rest of the players amount to bit parts and dual scenes shared with the last film.  Ivanek is memorable in his portrayal that has an eerie familiarity to anyone who’s had a long time single friend.

There is plenty of scenery in The Bourne Legacy, with Alaska, Maryland and The Philippines featured beautifully. The last chase through Manilla goes on for too long, and the interactions with the wolves, while somewhat understandable through the explanation of one of the characters, takes a willing suspension of disbelief.

Is this film enough to keep the fire burning on the series?  It certainly should.  The path the film takes is such an interesting one, it feels like an evolution in the journey and not a tacked on mess.  That Tony Gilroy has been involved in from the start has a great deal to do with the experience.  One can’t help wondering where it leads next.  I have a good feeling it won’t be like this:

(****1/2 out of *****)


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