The Bourne Legacy is like waiting months to go out on a first date with someone only to spend the entire time telling them about your ex.
When the Jason Bourne saga kicked off with 2002’s The Bourne Identity, it proved to be the fresh new take on the secret agent that the spy genre desperately needed. Its success forced the James Bond franchise to revamp to a more basic approach or become irrelevant compared to Matt Damon’s action hero.
The Bourne franchise likewise was in need of a spark after Damon and Paul Greengrass (who directed 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy and 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum) opted against returning for another installment. Since Ultimatum grossed a series-high $227 million, it wasn’t hard to get understand why Universal Pictures wanted to keep the Bourne money train rolling.
Tony Gilroy — who wrote/co-wrote the previous trilogy — adds directorial responsibilities for Legacy. When he’s not focused on the Bourne legacy, he offers teases of an interesting new direction that gets loss in a disjointed, exhausting endeavor.
Don’t bother watching Legacy until you’ve had a marathon of the Damon trilogy as you’ll need the refresher to understand their impact on the supposedly new direction of the Bourne franchise. Gilroy and his co-screenwriter/brother, Dan, spend too much time — most of the first hour — focusing on Bourne and what he accomplished in the previous trilogy instead of devoting enough time to spark a potential new one.
After Bourne brings national attention to Treadstone — the secret task force he was a part of — a CIA operative Eric Byer (The Incredible Hulk’s Edward Norton in a fun, prickly role) decides the best action is to wipe out their entire network of undercover agents and covert operation teams right down to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist working on a supplement to make a stronger, faster, smarter secret agent. That plan seems a bit much especially when just killing Bourne seems the more sensible strategy.
In true government efficiency, they miss one — Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, Marvel’s The Avengers). Cross was part of the super agent program, but his enhancement medicine is running low and he’s starting to go through withdrawal. He partners with Shearing in hopes of finding more meds or a cure. A doping special agency seems especially timely after the Summer Olympics, no?
If that sounds exciting, it sincerely wasn’t my intention. Gilroy drains much of the fun out of what could be an intriguing story with too much procedural (read: boring) talk you’ll feel like you’re in Government & Politics 101 instead of the simple premise of a secret agent trying to stay one step ahead of his would-be-assassins. Renner doesn’t try a shallow Damon impersonation and makes Cross intriguing enough that you don’t miss Damon nearly as much as Gilroy appears to. Cross has a rougher edge than Bourne and is more abrasive, direct and unflinching in dismantling opponents. He creates a solid chemistry with Weitz, even if her character seems included simply to fill the female sidekick quota.
Legacy’s trailer does the job a little too well in making the film look like a summer blockbuster by spoiling all of the film’s exciting moments. In all fairness, if they made a trailer that was truer to the movie’s talky and slow-paced nature, not too many people would be lining up to see it.
Most frustrating is that when he talking points segment and focuses more on the action, Gilroy has an easy grasp of handling the action scenes in staging them in a way that’s realistic and makes Cross come across like a serious threat. It’s in those rare moments when the film comes alive and reminds us how fun this franchise can be when it’s not bogged down in politics. This is an uneven start to a new franchise that may need a director with a completely different vision in order for it to be truly born again.
Rating: 4.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Mary Cybulski/2012 Universal Studios
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