The Bourne Legacy movie review
It's been five years since The Bourne Ultimatum solidified Matt Damon's Jason Bourne as the definitive super spy. The character was such a revelation that even James Bond couldn't help biting his style. Now, without Damon or director Paul Greengrass, The Bourne Legacy continues the series with a new character and some big shoes to fill. With series' scribe Tony Gilroy taking on double duty in the director's chair and Jeremy Renner filling the lead role, Legacy arrives with an almost impossible amount of expectations.
Renner plays Aaron Cross, a new breed of spy born from an offshoot of Treadstone, the project that created Jason Bourne. As the events of The Bourne Ultimatum send ripples throughout the espionage community, the CIA initiates a slash and burn operation to destroy and cover up any traces of similar spy programs. As spies are killed off left and right, Cross manages to escape death, thus beginning the cat and mouse chase fans have known and loved this series for.
Despite a strong premise, Legacy never really hits the gas pedal and gets rolling. While its predecessor's portrayed situation room drama with as much energy as the car chases and shooting, Legacy feels more like The Bourne Decaffeination. There's an interesting story to tell, but not a whole lot of forward momentum propelling it.
In creating an entirely different character from Jason Bourne, it seems Gilroy shot himself in the foot a bit. The Bourne character was so fascinating because he was film-making-101 personified. He was all show and no tell, rarely saying a word but telling a gripping story through his actions. Damon's amazing ability to create character development through body language and a grimace was half of the character's appeal. Cross, in contrast, is a talkative, wise-cracking, and almost jolly secret agent.
While Bourne wanted to find his past, Cross seems intent on escaping it. Bourne's abilities came through training and programming, Cross seems to get his spy powers from a regular dose of chemicals. Without them, he's little more than a typical grunt, so he tracks down Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) to help him get more pills.
As she explains, at length, the science behind Cross's genetic modifications, it becomes clear that The Bourne Legacy is closer to a visual novel than a piece of film-making. In fact, this is the kind of story I'd prefer to read on my Kindle in an airplane or on the beach. There is too much explaining and not enough doing for a two hour movie to contain.
It seems clear that Tony Gilroy is a capable writer of complex spy fiction tales, but he doesn't have the directing chops that Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass displayed in the previous films. The result is a lopsided film that manages to be interesting and dull in equal measure.
When the credits started rolling and the signature Moby tune kicked in, I almost felt like the ending could have come at any point in the film and I wouldn't have known the difference. There's little rising action and a flat chase scene that barely qualifies as a climax. In fact, the central conflict is essentially left on the table, presumably left unsolved for a sequel that probably won't ever happen.
I'd call The Bourne Legacy a completely average spy thriller, but that would imply that there were any actual thrills. It's more like a completely average spy...rocking chair, or quilt, or retirement home. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I bet my grandparents would love it.