The Bourne Legacy (2012 movie) review…

The Bourne Legacy (2012 movie) review… after the break…

THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012 movie) review…

As a movie critic once wrote, the true test of a franchise movie is whether it was still a good movie if you stripped the intellectual property from it. In other words, suppose “Empire Strikes Back” was stripped of all of it’s “Star Wars” characters and concepts and merely made into a stand-alone movie. Would it still be a good movie? There are some movies that simply can not stand on their own; They need the emotional investment of the prior films in the franchise. Such dependence is not necessarily a bad thing; It is just a telling characteristic of that movie. “Empire Strikes Back” is a good movie BECAUSE of the foundation built by the original film and would most likely not be able to be it’s own stand-alone film.

Then there are films like “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” the third film in the “Die Hard” film franchise. Unlike “Empire Strikes Back,” “Vengeance” started out life as a completely stand-alone script, separate from the “Die Hard” franchise. Franchise hero John McClane and the “Die Hard” intellectual property were then woven into the script to make the movie that is available today. Would “Vengeance” have been a good film without the “Die Hard” franchise attached to it? Obviously, it was at least good enough to be bought as a completely unrelated property.

Which brings us to “The Bourne Legacy,” the fourth film in the “Jason Bourne” franchise. For the uninitiated, Jason Bourne is an American government assassin who attempts to hide from employers who refuse to take ‘No’ as an answer when he wants to stop working for them. The first three films are dedicated to him discovering his true identity and evading those employers who wish to give him a pink slip that strongly resembles that of a coffin. The fourth film, though, does not feature Matt Damon reprising his role but a new assassin named Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner) in a similar predictament – His employers want him dead and will stop at nothing to make sure his journey to absolute deadness is complete.

The plot for “The Bourne Legacy,” obviously, is a bit more complicated then that – The film begins with the upper echelon of the CIA in panic mode over the fact that their super-secret assassin project will be unveiled to the public. They begin to shut down all of their other assassin programs that could be connected to Jason Bourne and this includes not just Aaron Cross but the scientists who made Aaron Cross and his ilk. Rachel Weisz plays the last remaining scientist alive and both her and Renner must evade the constant pursuit of Edward Norton who is responsible for sweeping all of these assassin projects under the proverbial rug. Complicating matters is that Cross is dependent upon medication to give him the super-strength and super-smarts that makes him such a formidable foe and must search out those medications or an alternative.

“The Bourne Legacy” is a strange bird in the aspect that it has both traits of a stand-alone movie and that of a franchise one. On the one hand, with a little retooling, this could very well be it’s own movie franchise. The “Bourne” elements are not critical to the movie storyline and, in fact, tend to get in the way of the movie more often then not. Aaron Cross does not interact with any of the cast from the previous three films and, for that matter, the cast from the prior film makes only fleeting cameo appearances throughout the film. Their appearances, so detached from the stars of the current film, reminded me of the infamous Marlon Brando cameo from “Cannonball Run 2” where the star never actually appeared with Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise but filmed his scene separately and then had a body double filmed from behind for those moments where Burt & Dom needed to be seen with his character. On the other hand, though, this is very much a franchise film, directed and written by the screenwriter of the prior Bourne films. It begs the question – Why did the screenwriter write a screenplay purposely for a franchise when the screenplay itself is so thinly tied into the actual franchise?

TBL isn’t entirely at fault for it’s screenplay – Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass reportedly refused to partake in a fourth film, prompting the need for all of the plot wrangling to make a fourth film possible. That meant a new star and new circumstances which is why audiences see Jeremy Renner and not Matt Damon running around. Yet just as the screenplay isn’t entirely at fault, it must take at least some of the blame for a derivative storyline that looks suspiciously like the previous film, “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Both films feature a central government character in a big command and control room looking at video surveillance monitors trying to snuff people out using any means necessary, even calling up another super-assassin to make a last-ditch bid at killing Renner and Weisz. Norton comes off as a younger version of David Strathairn and that’s not necessarily a good thing; You want your main villains to be distinctive and here, the only thing that separates the two are age and scenes. If this were “Timecop,” I’d be afraid of putting them in the same room as, if they touched, they would instantly morph and meld into each other.

One aspect of TBL that disappointed was that there was no “King Kong vs. Godzilla” moment as in prior Bourne films. There is no “Bourne vs. Desh,” “Bourne vs. Jarda” or even “Bourne vs. Castel” moment in the film; The closest physical action piece we receive is when Cross must confront four agents in his attempt to rescue Weisz from a forced suicide. Cross’ duel with another super-assassin at the end of the film is mostly non-substantive (sort of like the “Bourne vs. Kirill” car chase at the end of “Bourne Supremacy”), reduced to roof-chasing and motorcycle stunts. Which reminds me… Roof chasing? Didn’t we see that in “Bourne Ultimatum” already?

A part of TBL that didn’t bother me as much as other people was the medication “ticking timebomb” storyline. While it was a little science-fiction-y, it didn’t come off as far-fetched or artificial; Cross is from another program and, in his program, they’re using medication. There are a few parkour-ish stunts that Cross pulls (jumping across a mountain gap and scampering up a wall briefly like Spiderman) that makes one’s inner eyes roll just a bit but the film wisely avoids using these stunts too often.

The performances were more then adequate for the film. Rachel Weisz was convincing as the damsel in distress scientist who survived a manufactured mass shooting (which was a rather brave move by the studio to keep in, considering the movie premiered a month after the Aurora, CO mass shooting and a few months prior to the Newtown CT shootings). Renner makes his Aaron Cross significantly different then Bourne; He has less experience then Bourne and the script shows off those moments fairly well.

All in all, TBL is a curious movie; It has enough Bourne IP stapled to it to be in the Bourne franchise but it doesn’t really benefit from that IP boost. If anything, the franchise storyline weighs the film down. Yet, without the IP, everyone would be screaming from their rooftops how this would be nothing more then a blatant rip-off of Jason Bourne. Yet the film wasn’t written by someone outside the franchise but by the franchise scriptwriter himself for the intent of making a Bourne franchise film.

So, would this film work if you stripped the film of the Bourne IP? Yes it would. Yet the film adds nothing new to the Bourne franchise and this is the mose puzzling aspect of the film. Besides a new agent and new limitations, there is very little structurally different from prior Bourne films.

And just to mess with everyone’s heads… Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass suddenly have a desire to make a new Bourne film (perhaps 6+ years away from a proven hit can do that to people). Medication might not be the only thing that Aaron Cross needs if he wants to see more entries into this franchise.


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