Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

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Here’s yet another strange hybrid of sequel and reboot, as the Bourne franchise is restarted minus Bourne himself, as star Matt Damon opted not to return. Jeremy Renner stands in as a Bourne-like mysterious hero, with the plot set completely against the backdrop of the previous film and its immediate fallout.

“The Bourne Legacy” has an admirable approach, plays with some interesting ideas, and is well-cast from top to bottom. But the biggest problem isn’t even Bourne’s absence- it’s that the film’s parts don’t add up to much of substance.

The new movie is directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote or co-wrote all three of the previous Bourne pictures, and directed a couple of outstanding films in recent years, “Michael Clayton” and “Duplicity.” “Bourne Legacy,” though, has more in common with Gilroy’s meandering, lackluster remake of “State of Play.”

As the new film begins, Bourne is missing, and while he’s mentioned a handful of times he doesn’t figure much in the plot. Renner is his stand-in, who shares Bourne’s shady past and frequently-demonstrated fighting abilities. He finds himself on the run with a scientist (Rachel Weisz), who’s tied in with the government conspiracies of the earlier films.

Meanwhile, various agents of the federal government- led by new character Edward Norton and holdovers Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and David Strathairn- are out to keep the super-soldier program secret. If you never saw the Damon Bourne films, or don’t remember them well enough to know what “Treadstone” and “Operation Blackbriar” are, you’ll be completely lost, so a quick Wikipedia refresh before the movie may be recommended.

Renner, who’s been on a roll lately, is an able replacement for Damon, while it’s good to see Weisz in this sort of role instead of, say, Megan Fox. And Norton continues his career resurgence that started with “Moonrise Kingdom”; he really should play a villain more often. The government-intrigue stuff works well too.

The problem is, none of these elements really add up to much. The stated objective of the film- Renner needs to get his medicine from the top-secret program in order to remain a super-soldier- isn’t all that interesting, and neither is the government’s main objective of keeping everything quiet. The film conjures up a new villain out of thin air for the third act, and after a fizzle of an action sequence (more on that later) the movie ends weakly, even if it is accompanied by that same Moby song.

Now, a few words about the shaky cam: The conventional wisdom goes that the Bourne films -especially the two directed by Paul Greengrass- ushered in the rapid-fire, quick-cut, shaky cam style that soon showed up in every Hollywood action film, only Greengrass did it with style while everyone else is just a hack.

My take was always that Greengrass wasn’t any better at the shaky cam than his imitators- and that the repeated scene of Damon entering a room, being assaulted by an unseen foe, followed by the camera shaking all over the room for 20 seconds before the other guy ended up dead, was the series’ most tiresome element.

Gilroy, now in the director’s chair, shies away from this style for most of the movie’s first half, and even doing a great job filming one shootout in an old house.

But all this goodwill is squandered with a final action sequence, consisting mostly of a motorcycle chase, that’s nothing less than complete gibberish. I’m sure I would’ve been impressed with Renner riding his motorcycle down a staircase, if I’d been able to see it.

There’s also a particularly graphic workplace shooting scene that, considering recent events, I’m sort of surprised remained in the film, especially since, once again, it ends up having not a whole lot to do with the plot.

There’s no reason to think a Bourne-less Bourne sequel couldn’t have worked. But this one sure didn’t.

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