Universal is hoping that The Bourne Legacy does well enough that it prolongs the life of the franchise - and with the finished product, the expansion of Bourne is off to a great start.
In the weeks if not months leading up to today's release, there's been a lot of talk about what Legacy isn't, and to evaluate it based on that is to short-change a film that is exactly what we go to the movies for in the summer. This movie never claimed to be a direct sequel to the existing trilogy, and to this critic's knowledge, writer/director Tony Gilroy never turned his back on Matt Damon's Jason Bourne. He set out to make another good movie in the same universe, and he pulled that off with a little help from a two-time Oscar nominee.
The Bourne Legacy plays with the concept that Bourne wasn't the only superspy in existence; in fact, there are not just multiple assets but multiple programs devoted to coming up with the perfect covert agent, all with their own methods. One such program is Operation Outcome, which is responsible for the creation of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, who if you don't know him yet is that guy who was underused in The Avengers). When Bourne goes rogue, Ric Byer (Edward Norton, who also played an Avenger in The Incredible Hulk) worries that Outcome will be compromised as well, and comes to the decision to close down the program (read: eliminate everyone). Cross doesn't take kindly to nearly being murdered, and from there it's game on.
After being a co-star in two star-studded ensembles with Avengers and last year's Mission:Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Renner is finally front and center in a huge studio movie, and he acquits himself very well. He does for the Bourne franchise what Daniel Craig did for Bond with Casino Royale - create a hero who is as much human as he is superhuman. We not only get to see Aaron Cross adroitly take down numerous adversaries, but we also get to see him in moments of weakness, vulnerability and even humor. (There's a laugh-out-loud scene where he realizes the doctor who routinely examined him for the last several years only knows him as a number.)
Renner gets us inside Cross's head so that we understand what would get him to sign his life away to a top-secret government program and what he's going through now that the same government is trying to kill him. Renner is able to show his range in a way he didn't with Avengers, and he should gain even more respect for imbuing his action hero with a full life beyond his heroics. My only concern for him is that with a string of successful action movies under his belt, I don't want him to be considered just an action star; that would be underestimating his considerable talent.
Renner's performance would be even better if he had more to sink his teeth into, but this is an action movie, and the genre doesn't lend itself to long stretches of character development. Action films are usually big, loud, fast-paced and oftentimes not that smart. Legacy is certainly not reinventing the wheel; then again, neither was the franchise it comes from. We've seen a lot of "government spy/hitman/etc betrayed by said government" stories, and this is the next one.
Where Legacy wins points with its script is in the little things, like taking time out to flesh out backstory, or injecting humor that isn't just a witty one-liner, or continuing with the realism that's been one of the strengths of the Bourne franchise. There are some moments that will make you arch an eyebrow, such as the completely unsurprising decision to sic another engineered agent on Cross, but for the most part the movie makes sense even as bullets fly and things catch fire.
The supporting performances vary. Edward Norton is a great choice as Ric Byer, the closest thing the flick has to a main villain; he has a certain look and line delivery that makes him seem naturally antagonistic all the time, even as he's not up to much more than ordering other people to do his dirty work.
Less convincing is Rachel Weisz in the female lead role of Dr. Marta Shearing. While there's nothing particularly wrong about her performance, she didn't do anything to convince me the part couldn't have been played by anyone else. In her defense, Marta is not as well-developed as Cross, so this is at least in part due to the script she's given. I will, however, concede my deep gratitude that the movie steered away from the cliche where a film's two leads, despite having just met at the beginning and being in constant danger throughout, somehow manage to fall in love by the end. That was a refreshing change of pace.
Those of you just going for the action will not be disappointed either. The movie has several big sequences including the semi-obligatory trip to a foreign locale, with plenty of shootouts, chases and a little arson on the menu. Characters do get winded and do get seriously hurt, and not just when it's convenient to push the story along.
Surprisingly, one of the most suspenseful scenes doesn't involve Cross at all. It takes place near the film's beginning, when we find out how Marta ended up on the run. The events that cause her to narrowly escape her research lab with her life are nothing short of chilling, in large part thanks to the usage of veteran character actor Zeljko Ivanek (Homicide: Life on the Street, 24).
This isn't a movie where there is some deeper meaning or something to think on after you leave the theater; this is pure entertainment from start to finish, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, you want to pontificate and other times, you just want to see the bad guys get what's coming to them.
If there's any criticism to be had with Bourne Legacy, it's a common flaw of most movies these days: that films are expected to build or, in this case, perpetuate a franchise. There are elements left dangling, obviously to entertain the possibility of a sequel should Legacy make one attractive. It would have been a stronger picture if the filmmakers had been able to focus entirely on making one successful outing, rather than having to leave the door open for the next one. Yet that's a greater issue that's not confined simply to this movie.
Despite that, I'll admit that I'm already hoping for a sequel, at least the one the director wants to make. Gilroy stated in a recent interview with UK film magazine Empire that his dream for the next Bourne film is that Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross team up. Based on Bourne Legacy, I'd punch my ticket for that movie in a heartbeat.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.