Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Dir. Tony Gilroy

2.5 out of 5

The Bourne Legacy is an aptly titled film. It's a massive hedge bet that's quick to announce its own creative misgivings by selling itself to audiences with a character who doesn't even appear in the film, not to mention placing its new super-spy Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) in an adventure that runs concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum. While interesting in theory - Bourne's exposure of Treadstone, the covert ops program that turned him into a judo-chopping automaton, inspires groupthink that leads to the liquidation of a similar outfit - it's distracting and deflating in practice. Instead of spicing up the film, the sporadic callbacks to events from Ultimatum float like vaguely recognizable chunks in the bland broth of a conventional spy thriller. It's more than a bit unfair to the cast and crew's attempt to create something new within the idiom of post-9/11 government paranoia.

The irony is that The Bourne Legacy is at its best when it willfully ignores the pretense of being a Bourne film. Taking over a series about punching, running, and punching people while running, director Tony Gilroy (who has written or co-written every Bourne movie, including Legacy) chooses to focus on the franchise's toy-soldier mythology. The film's complex exposition is slowly spooned out via a jittery CIA clandestine operations chief (Edward Norton) who observes Bourne going rogue and fears retribution from one of his own scientifically-enhanced charges. His attempts to terminate the program sends Cross searching for a supply of "chems," the government-issued drugs that keep his body and mind performing at peak capacity. His plan for survival hinges on the sole survivor of a brutal laboratory massacre, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doe-eyed scientist whom Cross rescues from a hit squad in a nifty home invasion sequence. The pair then travels to a Philippine drug factory to permanently infect Cross with a viral concoction that simulates the effects of the "chems" and will prevent him from turning back into a regular 'ol stupid.

Gilroy's ponderously quiet approach to material typically paced like a runaway freight train pays off in certain areas, even if the film as a whole takes too long to unravel. Legacy says goodbye to the queasy-cam of Paul Greengrass and gives its protagonist some extra breathing room with a lengthy training prologue in Alaska. The dearth of fight scenes might also upset some series purists, but a good result of this is more screen time for Weisz. Traumatized but trying to remain tough, she contributes real emotional heft to a film that otherwise relies on repetitious CIA-speak and Renner's leaden presence. Unfortunately, Gilroy backloads the film with an interminable motorcycle chase/fight against a cyborg-like villain (Louis Ozawa Changchien) who is invented completely for the benefit of the big climatic action sequence. It's a welcome visceral thrill, but it can't compensate for Legacy's wholly misleading agenda; it is more about extending a brand than telling a story. Norton's character sums it all up in a flashback with a war-weary Cross, remarking that their clandestine work is "morally indefensible and absolutely necessary." So too, I suppose, is The Bourne Legacy.

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