Monday, August 13, 2012

The Bourne Legacy / **½ (PG-13)

Aaron Cross: Jeremy Renner
Dr. Marta Shearing: Rachel Weisz
Retired Col. Eric Byer, USAF: Edward Norton
Retired Adm. Mark Turso, USN: Stacy Keach
Terrence Ward: Dennis Boutsikaris
Dita Mandy: Donna Murphy
Arthur Ingram: Michael Chernus
Zev Vendel: Corey Stoll
Dr. Donald Foite: Zeljko Ivanek
Outcome #3: Oscar Isaac

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tony Gilroy. Written by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy. Inspired by the Bourne series by Robert Ludlum. Running time: 135 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence and action sequences).

I’m finding it frustrating to discuss the extension project to the Jason Bourne trilogy, the new movie “The Bourne Legacy”. It’s frustrating because this is one of those times I’d like to abandon the four star rating system. It’s one of those movies that can’t be quantified by a collection of stars that assigns a definitive success factor to the film. Is the movie successful in what it’s trying to do? Most certainly. Is it well made? Definitely. Did I enjoy watching it? Very much so. But, in the end, what is the point of it?

“The Bourne Legacy” takes the labyrinthine mythology of the first three Bourne movies and multiplies it by five. Or maybe it’s ten? I’m a little foggy on the math. It’s confusing if you’re schooled in the Bourne movies. I imagine it’s impenetrable if you’ve never seen any of the Bourne films. It adds elements that have not been touched upon before and involves a new set of characters trying to rectify the actions of all the major players that came before them. It references terms heard in the other films, like Treadstone and Black Briar; and it introduces new terms, like Outcomes. If you can follow it, it’s a nice mind twister of a journey. If not, well… I guess all I can say is good luck having any idea about what you’re watching.

We meet Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) out in the wilderness. A text on the screen tells us he is in “wilderness training.” It’s safe to assume that Cross is much like the titular Bourne, some sort of superspy. Unlike Bourne, he knows it. He takes pills as he treks across the Alaskan winter wilderness. He comes across another member of the program in a cabin in the woods. The two men are wary of each other, although they know they’re both on the same team. Was one sent to test the other? Why were they taken out of the field and put into this training exercise? They speak in perplexing statements that make everything as clear as mud for the audience.

This is intercut with scenes of a government task force trying to contain the events happening in the final film of the initial trilogy. These events are taking place at the same time that Jason Bourne was racing around New York in “The Bourne Ultimatum”. The task force is run by Eric Byer, played by Edward Norton (“Moonrise Kingdom”) as a man who works with cold imperative. The Bourne situation must be contained in order to protect the country. Once it becomes clear that Bourne might expose everything about Treadstone, it’s Byer’s decision to burn the whole program down. All of the assets are terminated. An armed drone is sent to the cabin to eliminate Cross and Outcome #3. It gets one of them.

There are other assets that need to be liquidated. One is the lab that monitors the bioengineering of the super soldier Outcomes. Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, "The Lovely Bones") is the sole survivor of a massacre in the lab by one of her co-workers. A team is sent out to finish the job under the guise of a post-massacre debriefing. Unfortunately for them, Cross needs the good doctor to keep him in his meds. I liked the simple implacable logic of why Cross feels he needs to keep taking the meds. So, now Cross is on the run with Marta, and the containment team must figure out which Outcome they missed and where they’re going.

Throughout most of the running time of the movie I thoroughly enjoyed the web of mystery. Director and co-writer Tony Gilroy, who contributed to all three previous Bourne screenplays, is a specialist in conspiracy writing. His screenplay, co-written with his brother Dan, builds its mystery by never allowing the audience to know everything the characters know. This type of storytelling can be frustrating for some, but I lean toward it. His direction is sure and works in enough action to keep the kinetic energy on the same level as the plotting.

The film ends with the Bourne franchise signature street chase. It’s as good as any in the Bourne series, starting out as a foot chase on the rooftops in Manila and ending with a virtuoso motorcycle chase between our two heroes and the 2.0 version of the Treadstone assassin. It is here where the movie begins to fall apart for me, however. Although, it is finely made, this chase sequence highlights the fact that everything that comes before it is fairly meaningless. In the end, the Bourne movies are simply heavily plotted chases sequences without much substance beneath their surface. All of the set up in this movie indicates that this one might offer something more.

It’s frustrating to have to rate a movie like this, because the filmmakers don’t really step wrong. The casting change to Jeremy Renner and the addition of Rachel Weisz work well. The added mythology opens up the world of Treadstone and the backstory of Bourne to a satisfying degree. But, the excellent chase sequence that ends the film comes as something of a disappointment. There needs to be more to Bourne at this point. It’s time for some morality lesson to finally surface from all of this. The lesson is there. It’s even hinted at in the actions of the government task force that wields such power and seems to answer to no one. It’s time for some long earned closure.

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