Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy.
Here's one way to reboot a movie franchise without actually rebooting it. Instead of getting a new actor to play the same part, hire a new actor to play a new character who is almost, but not quite, exactly like the old one. This way, if the movie flops, you can always try to bring back the original star. And if it should happen to be a hit, you can always build up to a sequel that features both characters.
Not that Jeremy Renner's super assassin Aaron Cross is identical to Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, but it certainly wouldn't have taken much of a rewrite to slide in Jason Bourne. All of the elements of a Bourne film are already in place. There's a bureaucratic, secretive government plot to hush up a covert program and the former agent who's trying to escape their grasp while pursuing a personal quest of his own. Naturally there's plenty of action, car and foot chases and a damsel in distress.
The filmmakers certainly seem eager to reassure the audience that this movie is part of the Bourne series. Events from The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon's second and third appearances as Bourne, have a direct bearing on the story and several supporting characters from those movies show up in this one. Jason Bourne himself is mentioned several times and even shows up in a couple of photographs. All of this is good for continuity purposes, but it does add to the running time, which is a hefty 145 minutes.
Renner brings his usual level of intensity to the part. His character is given a small amount of backstory, but it's how he handles the action that really matters and he handles it well. He manages to pull off being a bad ass killing machine who can outfight, outgun, outrun and outwit nearly everyone, without boring the audience by being such a superman that they know he's never truly in danger.
The gist of the plot, once you boil all way the espionage techno-babble that the officious, bureaucratic villains seem to indulge in with such delight, is basically one long chase. Renner's loose cannon assassin, with damsel in distress played by Rachel Weisz in tow, is off across the world, while his former masters try to track him down.
It is in the literal chase scenes where the movie finds its surest footing. Even if the rooftop chase does feel a little derivative of a similar scene in an earlier Bourne film, it's still exciting. And the same goes with the motorcycle chase at the climax. The scenes with the villains features a well known and talented cast of actors, lead by Ed Norton, but quite a few of their scenes could have been trimmed to speed up the pace.
There's plenty of room for a sequel and its opening box office numbers pretty much guarantee one will get made. Hopefully, now that Renner has established himself in the part, the filmmakers won't feel the need to lean so heavily on the earlier films. Let him have his own completely standalone story before the inevitable team-up with Cross and Bourne happens.
Jeremy Renner and Ed Norton in The Bourne legacy
I am a big fan of the Jason Bourne films and a team up between Cross and Bourne (if played by Matt Damon) would make for an amazing action film. If it ever happens, I hope someone can come up with an actual plot. As Scott wrote, it is essentially just a chase. Bourne's name gets dropped several times to remind us why the movie is so titled and there is unnecessary cameos by several actors from the earlier films. Cut away the details and all we have is a man on the run who is later joined by a woman.
Tony Gilroy is a director who likes extensive takes and plenty of dialogue. He lets scenes play out longer than they ever need to. The film opens with Cross trekking over mountains and through harsh frozen landscapes. These scenes are intended to show us how tough Cross is and how isolated the locale? We saw the previews. We already know of his fortitude. Once he arrives at the cabin we find out how remote it is. At best, those scenes should have played during the opening credits. Another scene (spoiler alert) involves some folks attempting to discover how much Marta knows before killing her. They yack and yack and then finally show their true colors. They already had her phone records and she lives in yet another isolated home. Why wait to kill her?
The most tense scenes are only tense because of what we already know of the series. In the first three movies it is a plot tradition to send in another agent to take Bourne out. When Cross first arrives at the cabin, we meet another agent who clearly looks suspicious and does not want to engage in any personal conversation. Cross is so suspect of him that he even comes out and asks if he is going to kill him. During the climactic motorcycle chase, Cross and Marta are pursued by the entire Manila police force and a government agent (again). However, the agent is only threatening because we are told he is and we know this is how these movies work.
The biggest plot gripe is (another spoiler) the ending. Cross and Marta merely get away from their latest close call. They are not in the clear. They are not exonerated of all accusations. They have not found a safe harbor to live out their days. They have merely eluded capture for the time being, be it a day, month or year. In other words, after watching this couple run for their lives for two hours, other than Cross no longer needing to take a blue pill, they are no better off at the end of the film than when they started running.
The action scenes are unimpressive and drag on pointlessly. They seem only there to break up the slower ones. Gilroy, for the most part, keeps the action scenes grounded in reality. The big exception being when Cross decides to slide their motor cycle down the side of a set of stairs as the stairs are packed with people. The pursuing agent just rides his down the stairs, except for bumping into one pedestrian, unimpeded.
The best The Bourne Legacy has going for it, other than the name, is Jeremy Renner. Here is an actor who discovered later in his career just how great an action star he is. His average looks and build make him a very realistic character within the confines of this fantasy film. His performance and his character's history are the only things that kept it all together.
The romantic relationship between him and Marta is subtle at best. It is hinted at that Marta was romantically involved with the agent Cross meets in the woods. My favorite moment between Cross and Marta is when Cross discovers that Marta does not know his name even though she has been alone with him a dozen times for treatments and exams. With such a long running time, you would think their feelings could have been better explored.
This is easily my least favorite film in the series, but will eagerly see another Bourne film, especially if it features Bourne and a different director.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2012)