Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             7/8/12

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Tony Gilroy

            The last movie that this reviewer saw was the remake of Total Recall, and films like that one would make one think: “do we really need another Bourne movie – let alone one that doesn’t even have Jason Bourne in it?” Paul Greengrass, director of the later two Bourne films in the original trilogy, jokingly suggested making a fourth one named The Bourne Redundancy, and its star Matt Damon similarly expressed a degree of disdain for a new film. The whole concept of a franchise spin-off does seem to reek of Hollywood cash grab. However, rest assured – Bourne’s legacy remains completely untarnished, because, boy, is this a good one.

            This is best classified as a “side-quel”, the events of the film unfolding at the same time as those of The Bourne Ultimatum. Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, an “Outcome” agent – Outcome being a parallel top-secret project to Treadstone, which Jason Bourne was a part of. Bourne’s actions have compromised the project, leading the higher-ups to forcefully dismantle Outcome – this translates to killing everybody involved and covering up their tracks. This operation is spearheaded by Eric Byer (Norton), who sends a Predator drone after Cross while the latter is in the middle of a training exercise in Alaska.

            Cross fakes his death when he realises he’s been, well, double-crossed. Meanwhile, a doctor goes on a rampage at a pharmaceutical research facility, where drugs designed to enhance the physical and mental performance of Outcome agents are developed. Dr Marta Shearing (Weisz), a scientist and doctor who has been evaluating Cross and the other Outcome agents, escapes, only to be targeted at her home. Cross saves her and the two go on the run, with Byer and his team scrambling to track them down. Cross and Shearing head to Manila, where the pills are manufactured, as Cross comes to realise he’s been in way over his head just as the drugs begin to wear off.

            The Bourne Legacy is, unfortunately, a movie people haven’t really been excited about. It’s been lost in the shuffle of late-Summer blockbusters, and its premise has been met with indifference. Well, Tony Gilroy and co. have to be given their due. This was intended to be a straight sequel to The Bourne Ultimatum, with Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass set to reprise their roles as star and director respectively, but it eventually fell through. It’s safe to say that Gilroy, who co-wrote all three of the Bourne films and who co-wrote this one with his brother Dan, has more than salvaged the situation.

            The Bourne Legacy is taut, intelligent, bristling with tension and excitement and is an overall harrowing ride from start to finish. Gilroy finds a near-perfect blend of smarts and action such that one never drowns out the other, and, thankfully, he’s less of a shaky-cam proponent than his predecessor Greengrass was. The story is coherent, the characters reasonably well-defined, and just like the first three Bourne films there’s always an undercurrent of credibility, and the realism that The Bourne Identity reinvigorated the espionage film genre with is in good form here. While some bits, particularly the “super-soldier” angle, are a bit of a stretch, it’s never ridiculous and always absorbing. There’s a sense of continuity established by the inclusion of some footage from Ultimatum as well as Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn and Albert Finney reprising their roles in briefer parts, and it’s used just enough so the connection doesn’t feel contrived.

            One of the primary challenges this film faced was making Aaron Cross a well-defined character and distinct enough from Jason Bourne. This challenge is mostly overcome, in that while Cross isn’t as complex and intriguing as Bourne, he’s still great fun to watch. Jason Bourne was a confused and disoriented man who had to come to terms with his muddled past, make sense of the remarkable skills he possessed and preserve whatever new relationships he formed. Aaron Cross on the other hand knows full well what he’s doing, and is a little more idealistic and fresh-faced than Bourne was. With the help of those special pills, he gains incredible physical and mental skills, shuffling between martial artistry, official documents forgery and resourceful Mac-Gyvering with ease. In an early scene, he outfoxes a pack of wolves and bests a military drone sent to kill him at the same time. That’s pretty badass. Of course, there’s a little of the inner conflict Bourne had so much of, but Renner makes sure to keep the angst perfectly in check.

            Dr Marta Shearing, as played by Rachel Weisz, is a lot more than the token action movie chick. It’s a clever move to have the female lead be a scientist indirectly involved in the protagonist’s predicament, who is as integral to the plot as he is. Sure, Rachel Weisz probably doesn’t quite look like a genetic scientist, but she’s a lot more believable than the boatload of hotties Hollywood has been trying to pass off as geniuses for years (Denise Richards and Jessica Alba, anyone?) – and a much better actress too. She’s the frightened woman jolted out of her everyday existence as much as she is an intelligent and level-headed scientist, and this isn’t one of those films with a romantic subplot crowbarred in for no reason. 

            The antagonists in this film, much as in the first three films, aren’t cackling, maniacal megalomaniacs – they’re intelligence officers, analysts and bureaucrats acting under orders, efficient, quietly menacing and dangerously amoral, with a frightening wealth of resources at their fingertips. Edward Norton plays the main bad guy – which, for the geeks out there, means Hawkeye is pitted against the (other) Incredible Hulk. He’s undoubtedly a brilliant actor, and doesn’t let the fact that his character is mostly confined to mission control hinder his performance. For the most part though, he never comes face-to-face with Cross, but he and his team always feel like a menace. It’s an exciting game of cat and mouse to watch, with Cross half a step ahead of his pursuers, but never for long.

            The Bourne Legacy pulls through, retaining much of that Bourne spirit yet nary a sense of been-there-done-that or, God forbid, a direct-to-video feel. It turns out to be quite a bit more than a decently-written piece of fan-fiction – it’s a clever, high-energy espionage thriller that could have easily felt slapped-together or cheap, but is instead well-conceived, well-crafted and well-acted. We certainly hope Matt Damon will be tempted to return to the series to team up with Renner should a sequel materialise.

SUMMARY: Our report on The Bourne Legacy: vital signs healthy, cognitive and motor functions above average, adrenaline levels good – Outcome: success.


Jedd Jong


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