Sunday, 12 August 2012
FILM REVIEW: THE BOURNE LEGACY
A Bourne film without Jason Bourne sounds akin to a James Bond film without 007. Mission: impossible! But when star Matt Damon, and director Paul Greengrass, decided not to front up for a fourth instalment of the adventures of the amnesiac agent, Universal Pictures weren't about to retire their critically and commercially successful franchise gracefully.
Hence we have The Bourne Legacy. Helmed by Bourne series scribe, Tony Gilroy (director of the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton (2007)), film #4's opening moments overlap with the closing events of #3, The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), establishing itself in the same universe but preparing the audience, fans and newcomers, for a new story and a new hero.
Legacy opens with a static shot of a silhoutted male figure floating in water, a nod to the final shot of The Bourne Ultimatum which saw Damon's Jason Bourne swimming off into the proverbial – and as it turned out, quite literal – sunset. The swimmer in Legacy's opening shot, however, is Jeremy Renner, whose Aaron Cross emerges from the icy waters in the Alaskan wilderness as part of a one-man, Bear Grylls-style training exercise.
Cross, like Bourne, is a U.S. government operative produced by a top secret initiative but as we're later informed, he and his fellow Outcome agents are “Treadstone without the inconsistencies”; Treadstone being the program which produced Bourne. That absence of inconsistency owes a great deal to the Outcome program's use of medication, regularly administered to the agents, and which enhances both their physical and mental capacities. And it's when Cross's supply of green (for braun) and blue (brains) pills runs dry that the operative goes rogue. His mission, unlike the amnesiac Bourne, is not so much personal as medical: he wants his next fix.
This leads Cross to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), one of Outcome's medicos who performed quarterly physicals on Cross (whom she had only known as 5) and his colleagues. And talk about perfect timing: Marta has been targeted for termination by Outcome's head honcho, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who orders the destruction of all evidence of their program following the revelation of Treadstone to the U.S. media, courtesy of Bourne and the C.I.A.'s Pam Landy (Joan Allen, a series stalwart but sadly only glimpsed briefly here).
Having survived the first attempt on her life (a tense and somewhat disturbing scene – given recent events in Colorado – involving a gunman in her laboratory), Shearing is saved from termination by an Outcome team when Cross makes a house call on the good doctor.
The pair then take flight, by car to Canada firstly, and then literally hopping a flight to Manila, headed for the factory where Outcome outsources the production of the little blue pills Cross so craves. Ironically, this little blue pill sees the blood flow to his brain and not his 'little head': the rogue agent is driven by the fear of losing his increased mental ability more than anything else.
That mission, rather than the previous films' search for self, may render The Bourne Legacy less emotionally involving but that is countered somewhat by the chemistry between Renner and Weisz. Aaron Cross isn't the tortured soul that Jason Bourne was, but while he's been designed as a superior model his humanity often wins out.
Marta Shearing, having adopted a 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude to her research with Outcome, proves vulnerable and contrite when the results come back to bite her on the ass. But Weisz provides Shearing with an inner strength when the situation dictates. Although if there is to be a sequel, one suspects Weisz's doctor will meet a similar fate to Franka Potente, Jason Bourne's love interest who took a bullet early on in film #2, The Bourne Supremacy (2004), in order to 'spur' Cross on.
And there is already talk of a sequel, and of Matt Damon returning. For now though, fans of the Bourne franchise will have to make due with Legacy. Taken as a stand alone action-thriller it works well enough; the requisite action sequences, including a motorcycle chase on the motorways of Manila, are thrilling (and sans Greengrass's shaky-cam), and Jeremy Renner is suitably rugged yet empathetic.
But as a Bourne film, Legacy is easily the weakest entry in the franchise. Messrs Gilroy and Renner will need to double-up on their green and blue pills in the lead-up to #5, and not rely solely on a shot of Vitamin D(amon) to successfully complete -- or warrant -- another mission.