Judge Clark Douglas thinks Jason Bourne got saddled with a pretty crummy legacy.
"Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg."
Facts of the Case
Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, Marvel's The Avengers) is a member of Operation Outcome, an ultra-secret government program that uses chemicals to enhance the physical and mental capabilities of its agents. The program is essentially a new version of Operation Treadstone, the program responsible for the creation of Jason Bourne (played quite successfully by our memories of Matt Damon). Alas, when Bourne starts unleashing the havoc we witnessed in The Bourne Ultimatum, government agent Eric Byar (Edward Norton, The Incredible Hulk) determines to shut down Operation Outcome and kill all of its agents. Due to being on an intense training mission in the isolated forests of Alaska, Cross isn't taken out in the initial mass assassination, but the government realizes he's a loose end. Soon, Cross teams up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea), a government geneticist who finds her own life in danger in the wake of the decision to destroy Operation Outcome. Can these two find a way to survive their terrifying predicament?
The Bourne Legacy may not have Matt Damon, but it's certainly not lacking in terms of credentials. It's directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the other Bourne flicks and directed Michael Clayton. Old pros like Albert Finney (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) and Joan Allen (Nixon) return, alongside such estimable newcomers as Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Stacy Keach (Lights Out), Oscar Isaac (Drive) and Zeljko Ivanek (Damages). For that matter, Jeremy Renner is more than equipped to handle the sort of no-nonsense action hero Matt Damon essayed in the previous Bourne movies. All the pieces are in place for a tremendous spy thriller, but the movie is tragically undone by the fact that it's trying so damn hard to make sure it feels like part of a pre-existing franchise. By the film's conclusion, it has successfully set the stage for Renner to star in his own series of standalone adventures, but this film spends the bulk of its running time attempting to explain its existence to the audience. It's the sort of tale that should have been reduced to a tie-in graphic novel designed to bridge the gap between Damon's version of the franchise and Renner's.
Honestly, the whole affair probably could have been reduced to a brief prologue to a better movie. Here, I'll even volunteer to write the narration:
"This is Aaron Cross. No, not Alex Cross. That's the one Tyler Perry plays. This is Aaron Cross. He used to be a member of a program called Operation Outcome, which used chemicals to enhance the physical and mental capabilities of its agents. But when Jason Bourne struck back at the intelligence community, Operation Outcome was shut down. All of its agents were killed…except Aaron Cross. They tried to kill him. Oh, how they tried. They tried poison, and explosions, and motorcycle chases and what-not, but none of it worked, because Aaron Cross is a hardcore dude. Now he's hiding out in some exotic location, working on his suntan and enjoying some good times with his super-intelligent girlfriend Marta. Things seem peaceful now, but when an international crisis erupts, Aaron will be forced to put down the suntan lotion and put his skills to use."
And off we can go on whatever sort of "ex-spy is thrown back into action" tale Gilroy and company wish to unfold. But no, instead they've chosen to transform that simplistic set-up into a useless, full-blown movie of its own. To be sure, the film looks complicated: there's a lot of pseudoscientific medical jargon being tossed around by the assorted doctors, loads of fast-paced dialogue filled with spy lingo and code names, plenty of computer monitors whirring through a series of semi-relevant photos and folders, esteemed actors making serious faces and endless scenes designed to make the audience attempt to figure out where we are in the franchise timeline. Unfortunately, this stuff isn't the rewarding complexity of John Le Carre, but rather a collection of smoke and mirrors designed to disguise the fact that the whole movie is built on a wafer-thin premise. Much of that could have been forgiven if the film had at least worked on a visceral level as an action-thriller, but Gilroy helms the action sequences in remarkably bland, workmanlike fashion. Say what you will about Paul Greengrass' controversial shaky-cam; at least the man knows how to construct a pulse-pounding chase scene.
The series has never really been an actor's paradise, as the busy narratives tend to take precedence over meaty, character-driven material. However, the previous Bourne films at least knew how to use the presence of the actors they employed: consider how effectively David Strathairn's stern face was employed in the frantic edit-fest that was The Bourne Ultimatum, or what an immediate sense of authority Joan Allen brought to her role. Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy doesn't seem to know what to do with its actors. Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz are two of the finest actors of their generation, but neither ever gets a chance to demonstrate what they're capable of (at least Weisz gets to alternate between frightened and determined, while Norton is limited to determined). Even Renner isn't really given much of a chance to shine, as he's asked to do nothing more than look credible as an action hero (which he does). Honestly, the only actor who leaves much of an impression is Zeljko Ivanek, who benefits from being at the center of the film's strongest and most memorable sequence: a tense and impressively-staged scene of startling violence in a hospital.
At least The Bourne Legacy (Blu-ray) benefits from a strong 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. While the film's visual palette is pretty drab and uninvolving (loads of grey and blue all over the place), the strong set design and attention to detail is worth noting. Detail is exceptional on this disc, and the many darker scenes benefit from a great deal of depth. Blacks are deep and inky; flesh tones look natural. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track is even better, delivering a sonic knockout punch that is everything a modern big-budget audio track ought to be. The action sequences are immersive and dynamic, the jittery James Newton Howard score (which pales in contrast to the work John Powell did on the Damon flicks) is rich and the dialogue is well-captured. Certainly difficult to complain about this disc on a technical level.
The supplements are a bit thinner than you might expect for a movie of this scale, with a technically-minded audio commentary with director Tony Gilroy, co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy, second unit director Dan Bradley, cinematographer Robert Elswit and production designer Kevin Thompson serving as the only truly substantial supplement. Beyond that, you've got a handful of bland featurettes that run about 5-7 minutes each ("Re-Bourne," "Enter Aaron Cross," "Crossing Continents," "Moving Targets," "Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase" and "Man vs. Wolf"), some deleted scenes, a animation test for the wolf sequence, MyScenes, BD-Live, a DVD Copy and a Digital Copy.
I really wanted to enjoy The Bourne Legacy. I like Gilroy, like Renner, like the supporting cast and like the franchise in general. I was more than eager for this flick to demonstrate that there was still a reason for the series to keep chugging along. Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy is both a cynical cash-in on its predecessors and an exceptionally dull cinematic experience. It's technically competent enough to avoid being horrible, but it's also unnecessary enough to make me completely uninterested in keeping an eye on where the franchise goes from here.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.