Tuesday, August 14, 2012

THE BORING LEGACY - "The Bourne Legacy" Fails to Live Up to the Legacy

I almost fell asleep. 

In an action film.

Almost. Fell. Asleep.


Not exactly the expectation when one is watching a film that serves as an extrapolation, if not continuaiton, of the "Bourne" series (loosly based on the novels of Robert Ludlam) which starred Matt Damon as amnesiac spy-on-the-run Jason Bourne, and directed by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass. Those films were action packed and engaging and, despite the premise wearing thin by The Bourne Ultimatum, wholly satisfying films; Legacy, while having some inspired moments, is not.

Legacy centers on events that parallel those from the latter half of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Aaron Cross (Jeremey Renner, The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) is essentialy Bourne 2.0; a member of a Treadstone offshoot called Operation Outcome, wherein the agents are biochemically enhanced with pills that augment physicality and intelligence. When Jason Bourne's (Matt Damon, seen only in pictures) exploits threaten to expose Treadstone and Blackbriar to the world, Eric Byer (Ed Norton), a ranking CIA operative who oversees the black op activities, orders the project shut down and all "assets" terminated. Running out of his intelligence pills, Cross is in a race against time to maintain his intelligence while avoiding assassination.

Director and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who initially wrote the screenplays for the initial trilogy, seems so concerned with thematically distancing this film from the original trilogy that he ironically calls more attention to it. The film's pacing is disjointedly uneven. The film is too long on exposition and short on action. Some scenes (especially in the very beginning) take longer than necessary while others that do require the development are painfully cut short. Arguably, however, it is a more relatively realistic portrayal than the adrenaline filled shoot 'em ups of the previous efforts. Yet the quiet moments (and there are many) aren't engaging enough to hold interest.

Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross is aptly named as a) Renner has the unenviable task of following Matt Damon in the series - assuredly a cross to bear; and b) if the film tanks, Renner could easily be crucified. However, as he did in The Avengers, he acquits himself rather well. However, for being a 2.0, his Cross is a tad more unsure than the amnesiac Bourne, though there are story elements that would explain this. He seems confused half the time, but seemingly more from the acting direction than from the actual situation. The normally on mark Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing is surprisingly one note in her performance. Her character arc is most especially disjointed to such an extent that by the time it reaches its payoff by film's end, it seems forcibly tacked on.  Ed Norton, perhaps this generation's master at playing smarmy, love to hate villains, is somewhat subdued, as is Stacy Keach as General Mark Turso. Many actors from the previous trilogy cameo in this film, especially at the film's conclusion, and it's a sad thing when David Strathairn (“Noah Vosen” from Ultimatum) subtly evinces more villainy in a few seconds of screen time than the principal antagonists have in the entire film.

Those who go into this film expecting nail-biting action are going to be somewhat disappointed. The climax chase scene is impressive and well done, but by the time its reached and the Bourne connections have kicked in, you just don’t care. I reiterate…I fell asleep twice during this film.  The Fourth Protocol, a Cold War espionage film starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, was virtually non-existent on action but high on intrigue and suspense and held my interest throughout. This film, with all its modern filmmaking tropes and technology and despite the pedigree of the cast, is woefully deficient.  James Newton Howard’s score borrows much from John Powell’s familar themes but, much like the film itself as a whole, its own deficiencies are highlighted by the those thematic inclusions. While it does help to set the mood, Howard’s score tries to walk the line between maintaining its own voice while seeking similarity with the familiar “Bourne” acoustical style. Regretably, it falls short when it needs to count and never reaches the soaring heights that Powell was able to accomplish. Much like the film itself, it is serviceable without being particularly rousing or memorable.

While it is unfair to compare this film to the previous ones in the franchise, it is inevitable by virtue of “Bourne” being in the title. Renner makes for a decent substitute, but I could not help feel that film implied he was a seat warmer until Damon's return (if Damon were to; he has stated he would not return unless Paul Greengrass was at the helm…either that or his career would be in need of a resurgence). As a method in which to keep the franchise on life support, The Bourne Legacy serviceably works. Unfortunately for the film, the constant references to Jason Bourne, including judicious hints of the character’s theme, only works against it as it reminds the viewer how much better those films were. Legacy is neither good nor bad. It simply...is.  The Bourne Legacy is worth a gander though…on cable.