2012-08-10

The Bourne Legacy – Legacies Can Be Tricky Things

by Yo Snyder

What do you do with a successful movie franchise when your star
decides to not to continue playing the same character? In the case of
the James Bond films, you just keep recasting the lead, and for the most
part in that case, with great success. In the case of the Jason Bourne
franchise, you hope that Matt Damon will still want to reprise his role,
and in the meantime, you invent a new character that exists in the same
world on a parallel timeline as the title character and try to create a
reboot/sequel/spin-off hybrid. That pretty much sums up what the aim of
The Bourne Legacy is. It’s a bold experiment, and I certainly
understand why the makers chose to pursue things in this fashion, but
unfortunately, it’s not an entirely successful experiment.

Going into the film, I was feeling pretty good about the fact that
it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen any of the previous ones. I
figured that would allow me to enjoy The Bourne Legacy as a truly
fresh start since I wouldn’t be burdened with comparing it to the other
movies. Well, the biggest problem with this movie is that it just
wouldn’t let me do that. It’s constantly referencing the previous films;
talking about Jason Bourne, talking about what he’s doing, talking
about the effect he’s having on everything else, and on and on and on. 
Considering he’s not even in the movie, his presence looms pretty large;
a little too large. I’m never really given a chance to take Aaron Cross
(Jeremy Renner’s new character) on his own terms because of all the
call-backs and references to Jason Bourne. I get it, his story is
happening during the same period as Jason’s. It’s an interesting idea,
but the execution just hurts this movie by constantly reminding me of
those really good other movies. Aaron Cross is an interesting guy, and
he’s different from Jason Bourne in many ways, but we really don’t get
to experience much of that due to the fact we’re constantly talking
about what came before.Tie things together at the beginning of the
movie, and then just let Renner’s Aaron Cross run with it; I guess the
makers just weren’t confident enough in this new take to do that.

These constant references all throughout the movie do a great
disservice to Renner’s character, who is a rather interesting one. He’s
not like Jason Bourne; he’s not an amnesiac who’s discovering and then
rejecting the man he used to be. He’s had a little scientific work done
on him (all explained in extremely lengthy and technical sounding
expository scenes that take far too long) which makes him a better
product than Bourne. He’s been genetically enhanced both physically and
mentally, and his quest is to hang on to those enhancements while the
organization that created him tries to take it all away by, you know,
killing him (because that’s what all super-secret government agencies do
when they want to keep something secret; kill everyone). Of course,
like Bourne, Aaron Cross isn’t that easy to kill, and so the chase and
the cat-and-mouse games ensue, all with a very familiar (too familiar)
air. Again, the makings of an interesting side-story are all present
here, but so much time is spent tying it to Bourne’s story, it never
gets the chance to really distinguish itself. At times, the movie feels like it’s like a parent with two kids who’s constantly telling one, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

One thing that does distinguish itself is a rather disturbing and
unsettling scene that plays a lot different these days than it might
have just a few months ago. It’s a scene where a man casually and coldly
guns down a bunch of his co-workers (again, the solution of choice for
top-secret, super-spy projects). It’s intense and not easy to watch,
much more so after what happened in Colorado and Wisconsin. It’s really
just a case of bad timing. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just too
sensitive, but any plot that involves a random shooting of civilian,
which is never pleasant to witness in any movie situation to begin with,
is just that much harder to view as “entertainment” in light of recent
real-world circumstances. The debate is raging how much the fact things
like the scene used in The Bourne Legacy influence real-world events and
why would ever want to view such things in the form of “entertainment”.
I get that, I get the concern and the controversy and the debate over
it right now. I’m not going to add that here (although by merely
bringing it up, I probably will anyway), but I will say that right or
wrong, regardless of feeling and opinions about all of this, I just know
that this particular scene probably wouldn’t have registered quite as
strongly with me at the beginning of the year as it does here at the end
of summer. What does that mean? What does that imply? I leave that to
others to debate, I just thought I’d mention it before you head out to
see the movie.

Underneath it’s many flaws – too many references to
previous movies, too many scenes that don’t add anything to the plot,
the fact that every action scene has been showcased in the trailers, or
the fact that there’s a gun in this movie that doesn’t go off (don’t
want to spoil anything, ask me about that later) – I think there’s a
pretty good action/espionage thriller under here. In fact, I think
there’s a pretty good Bourne spin-off under here, it’s just never given
enough room to emerge from beneath the shadow of the one who got this
franchise started. Truthfully, if this movie leads to a team-up film of
Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross finally taking down all those smugly
superior guys in suits who “chase” people from a room full of phones and
monitors, which could be a great movie, then The Bourne Legacy
will be a worthy film as a stepping stone to that much more awesome
idea. If that doesn’t happen though, then I’m afraid I’ll always see The Bourne Legacy
as somewhat of a disappointment; a film with potential, but one that
just couldn’t get away from the greatness that came before it. That’s
the problem with legacies; sometimes they help, sometimes they hinder.

Score: 4 of 7