THE BOURNE LEGACY
***1/2 (out of 5)
August 10, 2012
Jeremy Renner as AARON CROSS
Rachel Weisz as MARTA SHEARING
Edward Norton as ERIC BYER
Scott Glenn as EZRA KRAMER
Stacy Keach as MARK TURSO
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
BY KEVIN CARR
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I have a bit of a unique perspective on “The Bourne Legacy,” considering how much general love there is for Tony Gilroy in the critical community. His debut directorial effort “Michael Clayton” was almost universally loved and gobbled up award nominations and wins several years ago. (The same cannot be said for his follow-up “Duplicity,” but I know plenty of critics who want to forgive him for that.)
I wasn’t a wild fan of “Michael Clayton,” so I wasn’t anticipating “The Bourne Legacy” to be a fantastically superior film. I was, however, expecting something interesting. Interesting is what I got, and I’m totally okay with that.
“The Bourne Legacy” is an off-shoot of the “Bourne” series, which starred Matt Damon as psychologically broken agent Jason Bourne. The first film was directed by Doug Liman, who did a fine job, but it wasn’t until Paul Greengrass took over the series with the last two films that the franchise really blossomed. However, Robert Ludlum had only written the three books, and “Bourne” screenwriter Tony Gilroy was tasked with continuing the series.
However, due to some conflicts with Damon, it became necessary to either recast Jason Bourne or send the franchise in a new direction. The latter choice was made, with Jeremy Renner as the lead. Perhaps when he was cast, Renner was a risky choice. Even though he had the power of “The Hurt Locker” and an Academy Award nomination behind him, Renner had really only played supporting roles or villains. Now, after his solid performances in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and this summer’s action juggernaut “The Avengers,” Renner is ready to take over the lead in a major franchise.
Renner stars as Aaron Cross, another agent in a different but similar government program that created Jason Bourne. With the aftermath of the Jason Bourne situation, the government is looking to cancel these other programs, and the agents in the field are being eliminated. Cross goes on the run, trying to track down a doctor (Rachel Weisz) who can help wean off the drugs that keep him in the program.
“The Bourne Legacy” is fighting a bit of an uphill battle. On one hand, it has to differentiate itself from the previous three movies and pave the way for a new hero. On the other hand, it has to remind the audience that it is still part of this billion-dollar franchise. Overall, the movie manages to walk this tightrope, partly by focusing directly on Cross, which is quite different than Bourne’s, while keeping that name in the background almost constantly.
Case in point, notice how many times I’ve written the word “Bourne” in the first several paragraphs of this review, which is likely more times than I’d written in my reviews of all three previous films combined.
The biggest thing to understand about “The Bourne Legacy,” though, is that it is different. Like “Prometheus” earlier this summer, it’s not meant to fit in perfectly with the existing films. It’s got a different pace and a different focus. Where the first three “Bourne” films were wall-to-wall actioners, this one is more of a slow burn. It’s thrilling, sure, but in a very different manner. Rather than having multiple scenes of Cross using everyday items like pencils and books to kill his enemies, we sit through a taut game of cat-and-mouse while the government tries to track him down.
That’s not to say there’s no action in the film. In fact, there’s several brilliantly executed scenes scattered throughout. However, the movie itself is more of a slow burn, but not particularly boring. It’s also not like a Michael Bay movie or this summer’s bomb “Battleship” which features painfully underwritten downtime with a director who thinks he’s clever but isn’t.
Gilroy brings a calmness and a smartness to the summer action movie, and it was a welcome diversion. The movie does drag a bit as it heads into its somewhat ambiguous third act, but I’m willing to forgive this and eagerly await what’s next for the character and the series.