The Bourne Legacy

We will always have the first three Bourne movies.  No matter how bad the sequels get, you’ll always be able to put on those first three films to remind yourself how cool Bourne can be.  But as we all know there is an entropy-like process to these things and a series like this can hang around long after it’s exhausted its initial artistic vision.

I give the producers of the Bourne series credit; they are trying.  Instead of recasting Jason Bourne, since Matt Damon didn’t want to do it without director Paul Greengrass, they introduced Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, another graduate of the government’s super soldier program, leaving the door open for Damon to return.  They kept the same look and many of the same cast members, relegated to cameos here, as this plot runs concurrent with The Bourne Ultimatum.  And they kept the same look, muted colors, handheld camera, quick and tightly edited fight scenes.

Unfortunately, despite all this, the rot is starting to set in.  The Bourne Legacy is not a bad film.  Jeremy Renner is a great actor with an Oscar under his belt and he has an everydude way about him that most people can relate to.  Likewise Rachel Weisz, who plays Dr. Marta Shearing, is a consummate actress.  Edward Norton plays the government official charged with cleaning up the dregs of the Treadstone super soldier program.  He reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.  There are some great set pieces, especially at the end.

But there’s a problem with the story, credited to Tony Gilroy.  It’s not even with the script; it’s the story.  When Treadstone is exposed, the order is given out to eliminate the program.  This means killing all the subjects and the scientists.  Aaron Cross, who is beginning to question the things he is asked to do, avoids getting killed as does Dr. Shearing, a scientist working on the program.  He meets up with her and they go on the run.

That’s it; that’s the plot.  There really isn’t enough there to hang a two hour movie on and that’s why this film drags in places.  Obviously they’re looking to make more, perhaps another trilogy, but the other Bourne films were self-contained as well as providing a three film story arc.  That’s their genius.  Plus the earlier films were about Jason Bourne’s quest to rediscover himself after his bout with amnesia.  Well Cross doesn’t have that problem.  He knows his past but we don’t.  So, assuming a trilogy, the arc will be us discovering his past.  What did he do that caused him to question his participation in the program?  Why does Dr. Shearing have a higher security clearance than her job would seem to need?  Both of those questions are posed in the film but not answered. 

This structure doesn’t work.  There’s nothing to drive the character onward and without that things tend to meander.  In this case it’s not a fatal flaw but over three films it will be if they don’t find a reason for their character to be active instead of reactive.

There are talented people working on this series.  I like Jeremy Renner, and the director Tony Gilroy has had a hand in writing all the Bourne films, and directed the great Michael Clayton.  Hopefully they will return the Bourne films to their previous artistic heights and The Bourne Legacy will be remembered as a stumble and not the first step toward the inevitable decline.

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