“The Bourne Legacy” takes the texture and fun out of a great spy franchise

August 14, 2012

from Indy Week

When The Bourne Identity hit theaters in 2002, it jostled loose in me old fanboy quirks I hadn’t experienced since Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It’s a little embarrassing, but I would sometimes pretend to be an amnesiac superspy in airports and shopping malls—scanning the crowds, analyzing my options. I can tell you that the guy at the Cinnabon counter is 190 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I can tell you that the best place to look for a bathroom is at Sears, and at this hour of the morning I can run flat out for 120 meters before my back locks up…..

Opening today, The Bourne Legacy is the fourth entry in the critically and commercially successful spy series. Legacy works as both a sequel and reboot, but it’s not as clever, it’s not as thrilling and it’s not as fun.

ImageMatt Damon has been replaced by Jeremy Renner in the lead role, and the story makes a lateral jump from Jason Bourne to fellow black-ops hard guy Aaron Cross, who has his own set of problems.

The film starts out in an interesting place. After all the cramped urban violence of the first three films, we begin with sweeping aerial vistas of rugged Alaskan mountains. Alone in the wilderness on a training mission, Cross dives into icy rivers and fends off ravenous wolves as the film establishes its own visual tone.

Via some clever cross-cutting techniques with scenes from the third film, we learn that Cross is a trained assassin with the same covert outfit that produced Jason Bourne, and that events are taking place in parallel with events from the previous movie. Bourne’s actions have caused a ripple effect, and now the government’s nefarious handlers intend to systematically kill off all of their own assassins.

The Bourne Legacy is essentially about Cross’ efforts to avoid that fate. Complicating matters, Cross’ handlers have hooked him on rationed drugs which heighten his physical and cognitive abilities. Rachel Weisz enters the story as CIA-employed medical doctor—also targeted for elimination—who can help Cross kick. Together, they race around the globe, just a half-step ahead of new villain Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), running the show from the usual high-tech nerve center of satellite feeds and nervous underlings.

Tony Gilroy, who wrote most of the first three films, takes over as director in Legacy and he clearly has a strong grasp on the Bourne template and mythology. Unfortunately, he lacks the narrative boldness and visual precision of previous helmers Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass.

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