The Bourne Legacy (2012)
I have never been so bored out of my skull in a theatre as I was watching this movie. I’ve never walked out on a theatrical screening, but this tempted me to. Not because it’s some atrocious motion picture, but just by how boring it is. If I was watching this anywhere other than in a theatre, I would’ve stopped watching within the first half hour. I have thoroughly enjoyed all three previous entries in the Jason Bourne franchise, and while on paper this might seem to have a lot of potential to be a decent Bourne-less sequel, it entirely fails. There are so many factors that feed into the dull, lifeless quality of this film. Not the least of which are a flatly conceived new lead character and a mess of exposition trying to impart three movies of back story which ultimately have no consequence on this story. There is nothing exceptional or engaging in the least about The Bourne Legacy. Why must my summer movie experience be filled with so much disappointment? Oh well, here we go, again.
In the wake of Jason Bourne’s dismemberment of Operation Blackbriar, the CIA discretely enlists the expertise of retired USAF Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to investigate and purge all incriminating evidence between the agency and Blackbriar. The CIA then decides to dispose of their other black ops programs, which includes the termination of their field agents. However, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent from Operation Outcome, escapes from being executed in the Alaskan wilderness and, with the help of Outcome scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), sets out to find a permanent solution to the Outcome physiological enhancement medication he has become dependent upon while fighting to survive those who would try to terminate him.
This is a very peculiar film. One would think that this would be a sort of fresh new beginning for the franchise without the Bourne character, but it’s weighed down to suffocating depths with back story which could easily have been excised for a far leaner and more streamlined story. If you haven’t seen the previous three films, you’re going to be so lost and clueless about what’s going on as characters bombard the audience with events that overlap with and fallout from The Bourne Ultimatum. However, after a while, the film ultimately has nothing to do with anything that happened in the previous three movies. Having seen The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, & Ultimatum multiple times, I was still lost within this maze of excessive and pointless exposition. There is such a massive volume of explanations of things that just don’t amount to anything. It’s not confusing, per se, but the prolonged complex dialogue scenes eventually blur into mind numbing ramblings very quickly. For example, Edward Norton’s character is meeting with so many people early on giving them a breakdown of what the ramifications are of everything that’s happening, but it’s so painfully convoluted and overbloated that the point of it all gets lost in the mix. I’m sure a far more focused and sharp screenwriter could’ve condensed fifteen minutes of exposition amongst numerous one-off characters into a straight-to-the-point two minute conversation. The film also gets so wrapped up in its own severe grounded realism that it forgets to clearly or efficiently relate information to an audience. Nothing is explained in laymen’s terms. Dr. Shearing fully explains what these chemicals do to Aaron’s physiology, but it’s explained in such pure clinical science terms that I would doubt that Cross himself would understand much of what she’s saying, let alone a general audience.
Some scenes are so drawn out to the point where they are counteractive to their own point. For a spoiler example, a team of undercover operatives try to off Marta by staging her suicide. They go under the guise of investigators or psychiatric counselors, and that psychiatric conversation is dragged on and on for several long, pointless minutes before they actually get around to attempting to stage the suicide. The act is only broken up when Aaron Cross shows up out of nowhere at her home, to which it’s never explained how he knows where she lives. It’s a terrible plot contrivance and a hole in logic that the filmmakers just expect us to not question. For all the mind numbing time they spend explaining everything else in this film, you’d think they could take half a minute to explain that.
This film has several great and highly capable acting talents in Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, and Stacy Keach, but there is just nothing here for any of them to work with. There are barely any proper introductions for any of these characters for an audience to even learn many of their names. If the film can’t clearly convey that simple aspect of the characters, it’s no surprise that the film never develops any substance into these characters. I barely knew anything more about these people at the end of the film than I did at the start. There is no depth and barely any diversity of emotion shown to build up an empathy with anyone. Every actor does as good of a job as they could do with what they were given, but this is such a lifeless, soulless movie with purely one dimensional characters. I was indifferent towards every single character, and that partially contributes to a lack of tension or suspense in the film. What also adds to that is the fact that Aaron Cross never sustains so much as a scratch jumping off cliffs and rooftops, fighting wolves with his bare hands, dodging gunfire, beating people up, and running for his life. Every adversary seems all too easy for him to take down, and thus, there’s no one that poses a real threat to him in any of the extremely few action scenes this film has.
The action sequences are very few and very far between. Where my review of the Total Recall remake suggested there was probably too much action and not enough character development in that film, The Bourne Legacy has an extreme lack of action in addition to an extreme lack of character development. The action sequences probably add up to ten, maybe fifteen minutes of the more than two hour long runtime. Ultimately, these are all terribly forgettable and tired action sequences. There’s nothing fresh or particularly exciting about them. Director Tony Gilroy had said that the film would not employ the use of Paul Greengrass’ notorious shaky-cam, quick cut action style. Well, he lied. While it’s not consistently as bad as what Greengrass does, it does eventually get to being that bad in the lackluster climax of the movie. As with the previous three movies, Legacy gives us another motor vehicle chase sequence. This time, it’s mostly on motorbikes, but like how some dialogue scenes drag on and on without a point, so does this climax. It seriously goes on for the better part of ten minutes where there’s barely anything at stake in it. The villain that’s chasing them is just some random hired gun who has no investment in the plot. The exposition about who he was got so jumbled up in all the other procedural dialogue that I never understood exactly who he was. I just kept waiting for this chase sequence to finally end, but it just kept picking itself back up off the pavement for more. And this ending has no pay-off. With no emotional depth to the story, there’s ultimately nothing anyone is actually fighting for, and thus, nothing to triumph over. There are no passionate principles or struggle for a new self-identity for Aaron Cross to dedicate himself to. There is no change to who he is at any point during the movie, and we barely know anything about him.
There is some back story given about Aaron Cross, but none of it mattered to me. His story isn’t tragic, it’s not conflicted, and it certainly has nothing sympathetic about it. The film takes well over an hour to actually tell us why he keeps jonesing for these meds, the same amount of time it takes for an actual semblance of a plot to develop, and the reason isn’t convincing. One of the pills he takes enhances intelligence and brain function, and his recruitment officer had to falsify his IQ by 12 points so he could qualify for service. He goes off the meds, he becomes dumb, again. So, his whole motivation in the film is to obtain more medication so he doesn’t lose his fabricated intelligence. That just doesn’t sell as a credible, relatable motivation. It lacks any self-less quality or humanity for an audience to connect with. I also find it peculiar that he has been physically enhanced to be stronger, faster, and more resistant to pain. However, Jason Bourne had none of those drug induced enhancements, and was still able to do every impressive physical feat that Aaron Cross could do in this movie and more. Not to mention, he could still do many of them while injured and beaten up.
As Jeremy Renner has demonstrated with both Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, he can capably handle a role of this nature. He can give us a strong action oriented performance fueled by a relatable and charismatic character. However, that character is not Aaron Cross. He’s a guy fighting only for himself, and is only aided by Marta because she’s being hunted by these same people. After he initially saves her, he doesn’t start inquiring about her well being after nearly being killed. He straight up, aggressively asks if she has any of the medication on hand so he can get his fix. Cross has no charm, no heart, no depth. I don’t know if there was an intention to spark a romantic connection between Aaron and Marta, but Renner and Weisz certainly have no spark. I surely wouldn’t want Aaron Cross to be a carbon copy of Jason Bourne, but it’s hard to replace such a powerfully dimensional character in Bourne. Jeremy Renner handles all the physical demands of the role very convincingly, but the character just has nothing interesting to offer. It’s certainly not Renner’s fault that the script was so overbloated and shallow. The dialogue and story give him no room to breathe life into the role, to give it charisma, levy, or emotional depth.
The one word I keep going back to in my mind to describe this movie is “pointless.” The story it tells has no point, the characters have nothing purposeful to say, and the action serves little purpose to exist. This is a film that doesn’t showcase any potential at all to be good. It’s not a steaming pile of garbage, but it just lacks passion and motivation. The script seems like something that should’ve gone through a few more drafts to chop out all that tiresome, go-nowhere dialogue, and build some strong characters and a thrilling story. Doug Limon directed The Bourne Identity, and had a great sense of gritty, coherent action and a vibrant, character driven story. Despite the cinematography drawbacks of Paul Greengrass’ style, he is an amazing director who can craft a powerful, deeply emotional story with some hard hitting drama and action. Tony Gilroy falters greatly with The Bourne Legacy. He can write and direct some great stuff. Michael Clayton was an excellent dramatic film that he wrote and directed amazingly well, and has been a co-writer on every film in this franchise. So, I don’t know what happened here. Beyond just how he made such a terribly boring, lifeless, hollow movie, I don’t know how Universal Pictures backed this script. Usually franchise cash grabs are train wrecks or just reek of second rate indulgence. This is just not trying at all, and that just hurts. I wish there was more to analyze about this movie to deconstruct it further, but there really isn’t. It has no substance or ambition to be anything worthwhile. I found nothing interesting, exciting, or redeeming in the fabric of this film. Again, it’s not a horrendous film that will make you curse its existence, but it simply had no reason to exist. I do not recommend seeing The Bourne Legacy. I found it to be a waste of time. You’ll be far more pleased re-watching The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, or The Bourne Ultimatum instead.