The Bourne Legacy
This is what i thought about the original Bourne trilogy… What, you’re not here to hear about those films? You’re wondering what I thought of this latest effort? Well, here’s a star rating for you:
What, don’t want that there? It’s supposed to go at the other end you say? Well this film doesn’t follow the standard dramatic structure so why should I follow my own when talking about it?
Ok, enough of that. The Bourne Legacy was promoted with the phrase “There was Never Just One”, a reference to the fact that there are other soldiers who were trained in the same way as that titular super-spy, though it could just as easily be coded instructions for viewing the film. For some reason I went into Legacy expecting a reboot or clean slate of sorts, something that would serve as a strong jumping on point for new viewers, but it actually begins by enacting the exact antithesis of that. Legacy, as it’s title suggests, is a film built on endings and not new beginnings, it’s not a stand alone film but part of a series – remember: there is not only one – but at the same time it is a trip back to when one is all there was and the feelings of that first film. It’s a mess, but I’ll try and make sense of it.
So, the film starts with an extended half hour coda sequence constructed entirely out of plot continuity from past pictures; a political epilogue added to cap and complete the prior series which shows a top-tier NSA guy as he attempts to tie off all of Treadstone’s loose ends before the project goes public. So much of the movies opening act then is old men sitting in a room speaking about things that are way over our heads, but seem vaguely familiar from prior films. I found these scenes to be very intriguing -especially since I was so shocked to see them stealing such prime real estate – but I imagine that your average action movie goer will not be impressed by all of the intelli-gobble and may even turn off because of them. They’re cool, but only if you like paperwork and buerocracy; scary only if you think government surveillance is worse than a knife wielding slasher.
Once all of these loose ends bar one have been tied up the story that you suspected to see starts to finally be told. It’s not actually that jarring of a jump in the moment, just in retrospect, because there is a connection there: the first three films set up and set off a Rube Goldberg device or line of Dominoes – pick your metaphor – and the opening section of this movie is the time lapse footage of them all falling down that you put on YouTube – I chose dominoes – while the story that follows is the equivalent of the Morning Show interviews one does after said video goes viral. When Jason Bourne kills a butterfly on one side of the world, a franchise is created on the other and the star of this new series is one Aaron Cross, the last still standing domino.
Though the tale told in this section is essentially Identity-lite Jeremy Remner does a more than decent job of rendering Cross as a character distinct from Bourne. He is still very smart – Renner selling Cross’ cerebrality through his eyes alone, a constant look of intense concentration on his face – but not just book smart like Jason (famous fight scene reference maybe intended), instead his intelligence is more instinctual and animalistic. There is in fact a scene early on in his arc, where he and a wolf he was staring down both look up in sync as a drone flies overhead, that sells this trait completely and a tragic twist towards the end that explains exactly why this is.
Unfortunately though he is somewhat hamstrung by the films structure: we don’t get his origin story until near the very end of the movie and even then its only snippets. So for the most part then he is a wall to us, which is much worse than amnesiac Bourne’s blank slate. In place of that search for memories Aaron is given a drug addiction; a rather unique driving force for an action hero, though chem-junkies are very much a common thing in real military programs ( and perhaps sadder, outside of them). I liked this element too, but it’s also under explored and over explained: yes, the explanations given for how the program works are wonderfully well thought out but I’d rather you make me care about the character.
The action scenes themselves – when we get them – are amazing, as expected; Gilroy gives it all he has got and the climax is never short of completely compelling as a result. So much of this is because of the intelligence in their writing and the intricacy of their construction; they never settle for simply shooting guys and blowing shit up, they’re smarter than that. Similarly the mythos built up around these two men is dense and rewarding because of how much care and thought is put into keeping it all under control and making sense. These two things on their own though are simply not enough to carry an entire movie for me.
Ultimately this raises the question at the core of all Bourne movies: do you really want your action movies to be ‘intelligent’? I often complain about things that are covered by the age old answer of ‘turn your brain off’ but this thoroughly brain-on blockbuster falls trap to so many of the same fatal failures that it’s made me rethink what it is I wish for. I want writers, directors, actors and characters to all be brilliant minds, but I don’t want to have to be; I want to sit in a theatre and switch off my brain – yes you heard me – because I know that better ones are in control now and I want to dot his so that I can focus instead on caring about what’s going on and fostering those feelings. Though Tony filled one side of the bargain he didn’t balance the scales and the film suffered as a result, so that’s why it got the above score.
Hope the strange structure and syntax of this review didn’t make you think too much to enjoy it.