Friday, August 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton

I reviewed this film for Next Projection.

Right from the start, the establishing shot provides a heavy dose of deja vu. Covert operative Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) floats on his stomach in the icy depths of an Alaskan lake, immediately bringing to mind the first glimpse we get of anti-hero Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in the franchise's first instalment. The scene is one of many nods to the original trilogy, a polite tip of the hat to the 2002 blockbuster that started it all.

From there, The Bourne Legacy sets out to both embrace its narrative origins and, at the same time, set itself apart as a stand-alone franchise spin-off -- which is does with varying degrees of success.

With the departure of director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Damon's decision not to return in the lead role, producers were left to ponder how best to handle their still-marketable action franchise. It would have been too risky a venture to simply recast another actor in the title role of Jason Bourne, the operative with superhuman strength that helped make Robert Ludlum's book series such a success. The Universal heads ultimately opted instead to build a brand new character from the ground up.

With the original trilogy's screenwriter Tony Gilroy now behind the camera (he co-wrote Legacy with brother, Dan), the latest instalment reverts to familiar espionage tropes -- nefarious government henchmen, spectacular high-octane chases and a variety of exotic international locales -- as it concocts a story that features less relentless action sequences and more scenes with plot-driven dialogue.

The story begins where The Bourne Ultimatum left off, with former Treadstone agent Jason Bourne on the run from shadowy government men. Running parallel to the Ultimatum premise is a second top-secret project referred to as Outcome. Under the watchful eye of intelligence chief Eric Byer (a delightfully snarky Edward Norton), Outcome is in the relatively early stages of creating super-agents; a group of six test soldiers who are administered pills in order to improve them both mentally and physically. Without their daily dose they "regress" and return to their unmodified (read: average joe) state. Due to a potential leak about the inner workings of the program, Byer hastily demands that Outcome disband, consequently marking the six operatives for death.

Enter Aaron Cross, a super-soldier on a training mission at a remote post in Alaska. When the truth about the destruction of the Outcome project is slowly revealed to Cross he goes on the run as the only remaining survivor of the program. With a low pill supply and desperate to stave off a return to mental and physical normalcy, Cross kidnaps Dr. Marta Shearing (the always-reliable Rachel Weisz) a virologist involved in Outcome's drug program.

Renner and Weisz
A series of impressively lensed chases ensue involving cars, motorcyles and parkour; all Bourne staples.

Devoid of jingoism, the franchise features double-crossings, backdoor dealings and omnipresent government threats that originate on American soil (as Norton's government crony Byer growls, "We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary"); the films were never about protecting the American populace from its own government's secret agendas. Where Bourne sought the truth to his identity, yearning for a normal life, Cross has no desire to return to his pre-Outcome days; preferring the supplements that elevate him to a superhuman level. The government made him this way and he has no qualms about maintaining his high-octane lifestyle, regardless of the cost. These men have superhuman strength -- but they are not superheroes.

While the film delves into familiar territory, Legacy benefits from its inspired casting of Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner -- an intelligent actor who imbues his performances with fascinating character ticks. With The Hurt Locker, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and The Avengers under his belt, Renner is fast becoming the thinking man's action hero. He more than holds his own here, lending a gritty, battle-worn realism to the proceedings. His Aaron Cross is a more than worthy replacement for Damon's Jason Bourne.

In terms of narrative The Bourne Legacy is able to stand on its own, although so much of its premise rides on its parallels with Jason Bourne's story threads that it will be interesting to see if it survives and becomes its own full-fledged series.

Bourne purists expecting a non-stop adrenaline rush may wind up disappointed. This latest instalment is a satisfying summer diversion that adroitly balances its high-octane thrills with dialogue-heavy passages that propels the plot forward. While it never quite reaches the level of excellence as the original Bourne Identity, Legacy still makes for a thrilling addition to the franchise.