Monday, August 13, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

I love the Bourne movies. The original film was a fantastic series of intense action sequences mixed with a thrilling spy narrative about a man seeking his identity. The two sequels took the thrills to the next level and offered some of the best big-screen action sequences--particularly chase scenes--I've seen yet. Matt Damon was compelling as Jason Bourne, the perfect balance between acting and action chops. The trilogy ended with most of its loose ends tied up, while also allowing for that ongoing mystery that makes spy narratives so compelling.

Then someone decided to make another one.

Did we need this film? Was there something lacking in the previous Bourne films that required its existence? For a franchise that reveled in its layered and intriguing storytelling, The Bourne Legacy feels like the fourth film it is, riding on the coattails of past success while creating an entertaining-yet-forgettable action film. The script from Tony Gilroy (the screenwriter for the previous Bourne films, as well as the taut thriller Michael Clayton) tells, not shows, and has a fairly conventional story for being over two hours in length. The plot: 1. The secret government program gets shut down; 2. Guy in program goes on the run. But while Jason Bourne was on an existential search for his lost identity and the truth of his past, super-soldier Aaron Cross is searching for some lost medication.

One of these quests is more interesting than the other.

Jeremy Renner is a solid actor, but his Aaron Cross is simply no match for the intriguing character of Jason Bourne. He's more of an army grunt that happened to get a chance to become something new--a chemically enhanced super-spy, courtesy of the American government. When the events surrounding Jason Bourne occur, it compels government folks to shut down other similar programs (read: kill everyone who knows anything about them). This is how a mild-mannered chemical biologist, Marta (Rachel Weisz), ends up as the accidental sole survivor of a spontaneous mass-killing from one of her fellow lab partners. (The recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Texas made this overly-long scene particularly uncomfortable for me. Too real, too soon, perhaps.) Aaron enlists Marta to get him his "chems" before time runs out, bringing them to the Philippines to raid the factory where the viral chemicals are produced and stored.

You already know what happens next. The government tracks them down and there's a subsequent chase sequence for about 40 minutes, with Aaron and Marta running from the government's expressionless version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 (the guy even steals a police motorcycle for the majority of the chase!). You know who will triumph in this chase sequence, so the thrills are muted. Our expectations are ultimately met and the good guys escape. This isn't a spoiler, per se; you knew this from the onset of the film. So what happens next? One of the most abrupt film-endings that I've ever seen. Now, some sudden and swift endings are intentional and appropriate to the film. No Country for Old Men has a particularly jarring ending that fits perfectly; Monty Python and Holy Grail played a huge prank on the audience by suddenly having a black screen with intermission music at its conclusion. But The Bourne Legacy doesn't really conclude; it simply ends. The chase stops. Guess it's time to go home.

The Bourne Legacy isn't a bad film. It's simply an unnecessary one. The action is thrilling, but without the intrigue and intelligence of its predecessors, Legacy doesn't quite live up to its name.

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