MovieJay Takes On “The Bourne Legacy”

The trouble with The Bourne Legacy is that it’s short on Bourne and heavy on legacy. It joins this summer’s Total Recall as an unnecessary edition to predecessors we fondly remember. It isn’t without its moments, however, though they don’t add up to much by the end.

The story picks up with the secret U.S. intelligence outfit run by the CIA called The Program, following field agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) from Operation Outcome. Like Jason Bourne before him, they are more than Bondian, though are not superheroes but men involved in a project that tinkers with the human genome in order to produce brainier as well as brawnier international men of mystery.

What this movie does, essentially, is show us what it’s like to be addicted to the seemingly magic pills the agents consume which gives them quicker reflexes, the ability to scale just about anything the way a cat does, while somehow increasing their intelligence to boot. Aaron Cross is a man on a singular mission to get his meds, which are called “chems”. And they must be amazing considering the lengths he goes to try and procure them.

See, he dropped the rest of his chems climbing a series of great mountains on the other side of the world, and the opening scene shows him diving naked into frigid water in order to retrieve them. He takes a blue one and a green one, and then camps out in front of a great big fire he’s built on the mountainside.

Cut to the Manhattan command center where much of the beginning of the film takes place, with Edward Norton totally stressed out at I don’t know what, except he’s got no trace of lips, grayer hair than usual and a serious look on his face. Character actor vets David Strathairn, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris and Scott Glenn round out the other totally stressed out men at the headquarters, where it is decided they must wipe out the entire Outcome project, including their agents as well as the scientists who have worked to discover how to manipulate human DNA.

In a disquieting scene that comes along in the shadow of the recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, another dependable character actor in Zeljko Ivanek (Damages, Tower Heist) portrays a scientist who goes psychotically postal on his lab colleagues, and it is suspected that higher-ups are responsible for it in order for their hands to remain free of blood, at least directly. That’s where we meet Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who somehow gets out alive and then finds herself to be a target of The Program’s leaders.

Meanwhile, we pick up on Cross, who is helped out for a time up in the mountains by another field agent who rations him some chems, just in time to fend off a nastily persistent drone looking to vaporize him right off the planet.

The mountaineering and the drone attack, which also include a wicked bit involving Cross fending off a raging wolf, are the best pure action sequences in the pic. There’s a set piece at a great old house in the woods belonging to the Weisz character that I thought was alright, but like the grand finale in the Philippines, I felt the action to be frustratingly directed at times in that way when you get a whole lot of shaky cam covering for real action. The chase sequence at the end has all the right energy, but is lacking a good choreographer.

What is surprising with The Bourne Legacy is all the bloat and the convoluted mess of a screenplay that doesn’t know what it wants to do or where it is going in all those dialogue heavy scenes around the action sequences. What we came to love and depend upon in the Bourne trilogy was the efficiency with which it told its story, cutting away all the fat and driving the narrative home at breakneck speed. In the first 20 or 30 minutes of this movie, I really had no idea what any of it was doing in a final cut.

Sure, Norton and those character actors are all fine and good–I particularly like the way Stacy Keach can down a scotch–but every time the movie goes back to them, their scene would end and I’d wonder, “What the hell just happened there?”. Their lips were moving, but to the degree that I understood what was going on and why it was so important to them, I didn’t care.

Jeremy Renner is growing into a capable, working-class action star. His work here is a variation of the notes he played so well in The Hurt Locker. Where Matt Damon brought intellect and the ability to communicate to us without words in his quest to forever figure out who the hell he really was, Renner as Aaron Cross knows who he is and what he can do and is driven by need for his wonder drugs.

That alone is compelling enough reason to make The Bourne Legacy. It’s just too bad that writer-director Tony Gilroy–who scripted these last three but who takes over helming duties from Paul Greengrass–bogs himself down in a whole series of muddled talkie scenes that take the wind out of this movie.

This is not an altogether bad film, and the end holds the promise that in the next edition we won’t see Rachel Weisz solely as the damsel in distress, but as more of a player hopefully.

The Bourne Legacy represents the last big hurrah of the summer, and though it delivers a couple interesting set pieces, does not add up to much and tarnishes a rather stellar series of movies.

**½ (out of 4)