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Bourne again: ‘Legacy’ takes a new twist

Reeling It In

Posted: August 16, 2012 - 9:33am
AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Mary Cybulski
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing, left, and Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in a scene from “The Bourne Legacy.”

“The Bourne Legacy”

Universal Pictures

2 hours, 15 minutes

What does a studio do when it has a hit series on its hands, but the star becomes either too expensive, or bored with the character to keep making new movies? If this were the 70s, they’d just replace the actor, and hope you didn’t notice or care. No more. The only one that gets away with that these days is James Bond. 

Or, they might just wait ten years and remake the original film, then gauging whether there is interest in revisiting the series. But audiences today are impatient. Now it’s all about the “reboot.” Studios are planning the reboots of movies, like “Batman,” before the final film in a series has even finished production. 

With the “Bourne” series of spy films, Universal is going in a slightly different direction but, I think, a smart one. With Matt Damon indicating that he’s done with this character, at least for the time being, the studio decided to tell a tangential story, rather than recreating the first one. It’s a nifty move because they still get to use the “Bourne” title to sell tickets, but they’re not necessarily closing the door on Damon coming back at some point.

“The Bourne Legacy” tells the tale of Aaron Cross, another super secret, super-spy from a related project group, operating concurrently with Bourne. Cross is from “Overlord” or something, and Bourne was from “Treadstone,” but they were all wrapped up in “Blackbriar,” somehow, and it’s impossible to figure out who is running who and from which agency, but it doesn’t really matter because the studio gets another kick-ass agent, in the person of up-and-comer Jeremy Renner, without having to pay an astronomical fee. 

Cross, unlike the amnesic Bourne, is fully aware of who he is, but, like Bourne, is conflicted about it. When his boss, an icy administrator played by Edward Norton, delivers the “bad things happen ... our agency is morally repugnant but necessary for preserving democracy” speech, you can tell Cross isn’t really buying it. As a result, when we meet our hero, he is on a “training” assignment in Alaska. Essentially he’s been put on ice, asked to jump through a bunch of pointless hoops while the agency sorts him out. 

Unfortunately for Cross, and everyone else in the project, the events of the second and third “Bourne” films take place, setting off a panic in the black-ops community. Suddenly the powers that be decide that it would be better for everyone involved if all these deep cover agents just disappeared. As you might imagine, however, Cross is a little difficult to kill. Our hero sets off on the run, stopping to gather up a scientist, Dr. Marta Shearing, played by Rachel Weisz, the last remaining member of the working group that came up with a way to genetically enhance humans, both physically and mentally. Cross has undergone these enhancements, and it’s implied that Bourne had as well. 

Besides being a chase film, the plot revolves around the acquisition of certain medications, little blue pills and little green pills, that bring on the enhancements, but, to be honest, this part of the film never seemed to go anywhere and was probably unnecessary.

“The Bourne Legacy” is a solid action thriller, to be sure, but suffers a bit from comparisons with its predecessors. The tone is right on, and the list of cameos from the first films is impressive, but often you feel as though maybe you’ve already seen the movie. It’s entertaining, but not particularly fresh. 

There is one scene in the film, however, that would have been disturbing no matter the context, but with the events of recent weeks, is especially frightening. All the scientists in the genetics lab are hard at work, happily mapping out the next generation of super-soldiers, when one suddenly turns and begins shooting. One by one he dispatches the pleading, terrified lab workers, until police are finally able to force their way into the locked room, narrowly rescuing Marta and killing the shooter. 

I wonder if the studio had qualms about leaving this scene in the film. It’s essential to the plot, but considering the murders in Aurora and Milwaukee, pretty painful to watch. Warner Brothers recently announced that it was significantly editing its upcoming film “Gangster Squad” to remove scenes where mobsters shoot up a crowded movie theater. The film will require reshoots that will push back the release of the film for months. It’s a hard question. Do we remove every instance of violence in a film because it might be hurtful to a particular community? On the other hand, who wants to be seen as capitalizing on a tragedy?

“The Bourne Legacy” may be the weakest of the series, but there’s no one to blame, really. The acting is fine, and Renner fits ably in the role of an action hero. He’s nowhere near the actor Damon is, but these movies don’t require that much, so it’s not a problem. The issue is that there is very little new in this film, other than the extraneous drug sub-plot. As a result, the whole thing feels a little rote. If they continue the series with Renner, I hope they are able to take it in some new directions, maybe even setting up a conflict with the actual Bourne himself. They could call it “The Bourne Intersection” or “The Bourne Collision.” Or maybe just, “Another Bourne        Movie, but this time with more Matt Damon.” 

Grade: B-

“The Bourne Legacy” is rated PG-13 for mild language and action violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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