Film Information: Released August 10th 2012; Certificate 12A
Cast: Jeremy Renner; Rachel Weisz; Edward Norton; Joan Allen; Albert Finney; Scott Glenn; David Stratham; Oscar Isaac
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriters: Tony Gilroy; Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Set alongside The Bourne Ultimatum, this story follows Aaron Cross (Renner), part of Operation Outcome, a programme sanctioned by the Department of Defence that is designed to improve the performance of their agents through the use of pills to boost physical attributes. While on a training exercise in Alaska, Cross realises that the Department has decided to destroy all the assets involved in the Operation for reasons related to Bourne’s exploits at around the same time. Now on the run from the government he worked for, Cross is forced to try to avoid being killed while finding a way to stabilise his physical condition. At the same time, Dr Marta Shearing (Weisz), a scientist who has worked on the pills in question and knows their effects, becomes involved when she too finds out that relations between her and the DoD are not the best. Cross and Shearing must find a way to outwit their far better-equipped counterparts and escape their damning claws, but is this possible?
As far as spy films are concerned, the one everybody is looking forward to right now is Skyfall and Daniel Craig’s suave portrayal of James Bond. The Bourne series has been a rival for a few years now, however, and while not boasting quite the same appeal as the British icon they have been successful in their own right both critically and at the box office. The decision to milk another out of the franchise doesn’t really come as a surprise since it’s bound to make money for the studio, negating any negative effects it has on the reputation of the films. Happily, this continuation isn’t too bad, but it never reaches the heights of the originals or has even half as many thrills.
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker; The Avengers) has always been a good actor, with a top performance in The Hurt Locker that catapulted him into the big time. His portrayal of Aaron Cross has similar strength to that of Matt Damon’s portrayal of Bourne, the only difference being that Damon had a better plot in general to work with. Throughout the film Cross only really feels like a supporting character, giving the impression that he’s just waiting for Bourne to pop up from around the corner so the real film can start. This is no fault of Renner’s but an example of the poor pacing and lax characterisation that plagues this film throughout. He does showcase enough of the talent that we’ve seen in his stellar performances in other films, but I feel he needs different material to truly shine.
Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener; The Mummy) suffers from similar problems. Her character, Marta Shearing, connects well with Renner’s but again does very little to make the viewer care anything for her. The best bits lie in the intermittent humour between the two characters and the action scenes, so the shoddy script means Weisz doesn’t really have the opportunity to really excel.
Writer and director Tony Gilroy (Duplicity) was on the writing team for all the other Bourne films, so a transition to replace Paul Greengrass seemed like a rational option. What Gilroy does well is maintain the highly intricate and precise way the action scenes are filmed, ensuring they are always exciting and in the end serve as the best parts of the film. What’s not done so well is the storytelling. Making another brotherly team with sibling Dan, what emerges from the drawing board seems to be a mish-mash of different ideas and plot threads that are never really sewn up. There are occasions when a new question is asked and immediately set aside, forcing the audience to pretend that they weren’t actually wondering what the answer was. The issue here may be that the script would have worked better as two films, giving the director more time to expand on the main plot thread, which could have been a lot more interesting.
Legendary cinematographer Robert Elswit also seems to fail to take this film seriously. He sticks to convention, providing the expected thrill ride during action scenes with an array of old action techniques and making extensive use of the wide shot to set scenery, particularly in the sections of the film set in Alaska. Parts are undoubtedly beautiful, but we don’t reach the heights of films such as There Will Be Blood here in terms of his expert way of adding depth and even emotion to the scene through intelligent shot choices.
The Bourne Legacy turns an above-average spy thriller series in to another run-of-the-mill affair that boasts nothing special or new about it. It manages to retain some of the things that elevated its predecessors, but a jumbled plot and its lack of ability to captivate really render it nothing more than an average film that is probably worth a view if you’ve nothing else to do and it pops up on Channel 5 after countless reruns of Steven Seagal films – but nothing more. Disappointing.