A Bourne movie with no Bourne in it - that is, no Matt Damon, and no Paul Greengrass either. Everything about that screams "cash-grab sequel", and a particularly blatant one considering the absent main character still has his name in the title. Yet I was willing to cut it some slack and be somewhat optimistic about The Bourne Legacy. Primarily because Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter who's been on board the franchise since the beginning - and whose vision for it was not fully realised - is taking over both writing and directing duties. Gilroy is a thriller writer with a list of solid credentials behind him, and his first directorial effort was one of 2007's best-received films, Michael Clayton (a film that I liked a lot too). So, unnecessary sequel or not, its pedigree looked pretty good - but honestly, I was hopeful about this one because I liked the previous trilogy so much, and I wouldn't have minded more of the same at all.
I didn't get it.
As Jason Bourne is about to expose Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, hasty decisions need to be made regarding yet another of the CIA's black ops programs: Operation Outcome. Admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) and Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decide to bury the entire thing, which means killing everyone involved. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is an Outcome operative on a training exercise in Alaska who survives the attempt on his life, as did Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist who monitored the operatives. Cross seeks out Shearing in order to obtain his medication - the drugs that enhance his physical and mental abilities - as well as the means to wean himself off them. But as they go on the run together, they will have to avoid Byers' and Turso's relentless hunt as the CIA brings all its intelligence resources to bear against them.
I just said it. Didn't I just say it? Action movies that try to imitate the Bourne series always tend to miss the fundamental, intangible things that make it so good - and sadly, this now includes its own official fourth instalment. The pacing is off. The plot is tissue-thin. The characters are uninteresting. There is little tension or suspense. There isn't even a signature fight scene between
I don't know how this could've come from Gilroy. He was the one who championed the plot of The Bourne Supremacy being about Bourne seeking atonement, which gave it the unexpected emotional depth that made it the best of the series. What is Aaron Cross after here? What is his entire motivation for this story? Pills. The little blue and green pills that apparently give him the chemically-enhanced mental and physical abilities to be a badass government assassin. (Which takes the series into vaguely science-fictional territory, another dubious decision of Gilroy's.) There's some stuff about how he was borderline mentally-handicapped before he joined Operation Outcome, and this is supposed to make us sympathise for him. But there's too little substance there to make it work. There's nothing emotionally compelling in this story of a guy who just wants his meds.
And Jeremy Renner is no replacement for Matt Damon. I like the guy, I liked him in The Avengers, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Hurt Locker. But instead of a brainwashed, emotionless, humanity-less killing machine slowly regaining his humanity like Bourne, Cross seems perfectly normal. Renner even plays him with the subtle swagger that comes naturally to him, which works for some of his roles - but next to Damon's haunted, wounded protagonist, it's a jarring step down. Rachel Weisz's Dr. Shearing is little more than a damsel in distress; what little characterisation she has is about how ignorant she was as to what her research was really used for, which endears us to her not at all. Ed Norton and Stacy Keach do nothing but bark orders in their high-tech control room, lacking the personality of the series' previous villains - the pathetic desperation of Brian Cox's Ward Abbott or the oily pompusness of David Strathairn's Noah Vosen.
The latter of which actually makes an appearance here - as does other franchise mainstays Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), Guardian reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) and CIA Director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn). Which are Gilroy's attempts at continuity tie-backs to the previous trilogy, as is the fact that it's set almost concurrently with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. It doesn't work; their appearances are perfunctory and superfluous, and viewers new to the franchise would just be wondering who they are and what they're there for. It just doesn't feel like a Bourne movie. The plot business in between action scenes is dull and tiresome; Cross and Shearing trudge from plot point A to plot point B, while Byer and Turso laboriously follow their footsteps. Where are the action scenes? There's a good long first act in which Cross and another Outcome operative (played by Oscar Isaac) warily circle each other in an isolated Alaskan cabin, and it couldn't even give us a good fight scene between the two?
I'll say it again: it doesn't feel like a Bourne movie. Gilroy's vision to continue the franchise is fundamentally misconceived. (There was Treadstone, and Blackbriar, and hey look, here's another unethical government assassin program that needs to be covered up by eliminating everyone involved! It's like the CIA just goes through a dozen of these a year, don't they?) If it weren't for Bourne's name in the title, it'd be a reasonably slick - yet still somewhat anodyne - Hollywood spy action thriller. But as a bona fide official new entry in the series, it's a huge disappointment. Because once again, how the hell can you think of making a Bourne movie without a signature hand-to-hand fight scene? Aiyoo, Tony Gilroy, what laa??
NEXT REVIEW: SAM
Expectations: amboi, psychological thriller, beraninyaaaa