Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

You would think that a series that built its reputation upon its lead character (Jason Bourne) and lead actor (Matt Damon) would flounder once both had been removed from it. However thanks to some great character work by Jeremy Renner and a novel approach to the already established series, 'The Bourne Legacy' proves that the story always amounted to more than just it's two leads. 

Aaron Cross, a genetically altered soldier from a covert Department of Defense black op named “Outcome” is one of the 6 agents being hunted down by his superiors who are seeking to erase all proof of their shady operations following the revelations brought to light by Jason Bourne. Dr. Marta Shearing, one of the scientists involved in Operation Outcome, joins Aaron on the run as they seek to elude murder at the hands of their former employers and find a away to remove Aaron from his reliance on physically and mentally enhancing medication prescribed to him by his operation leaders.

The movie has a really solid story and even though it doesn’t span the globe as much as Jason Bourne’s films or feature quite as much of an overarching conspiracy plot line, it tells a very enjoyable and concise story. Unfortunately the scenes involving Edward Norton’s character Eric Byer become so bogged down with exposition and explanations that they tend to severely drag the more time they spend on the screen, whilst Norton does an impeccable job in the role I can’t say the written material he was given amounts to much more than signposting things for the audience and conspiratorial gobbledygook.

The great Edward Norton impresses in the poorly written role of Eric Byer.

The biggest talking point about this film is the lack of Matt Damon as an actor as well as Jason Bourne as a character. I was very relieved when I found out that Jeremy Renner wouldn’t be taking over the role of Bourne but rather that he would be playing another character in the same universe, I really think this adds credibility to the world of the series and makes Bourne’s story not seem so clich├ęd. When I first heard that Renner had signed on to the film though I was a little uneasy, not that I thought he was a bad actor but despite his remarkable performance in ‘The Hurt Locker’ and his welcome addition to the cast of both ‘The Town’ and ‘The Avengers’ I was not convinced that he could carry a film like this. Within the first minutes of the movie however I was proved wrong. Renner brings something completely different to the table than Damon, yes Renner doesn’t possess the same instant relatability nor does he exude the same likability of the ‘Good Will Hunting’ star but what Renner does bring is a gruffer character than Bourne, with Renner’s Aaron Cross the audience feels linked to him through his everyman nature and the stunning vulnerability uncovered in Renner’s performance, Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross is a perfectly matched variance on Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne.

Jeremy Renner proves a very worthy successor to Matt Damon.

Joining Jeremy Renner in the cast are Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing, Edward Norton as Eric Byer and Stacy Keach as Mark Turso. Weisz’s performance began a little too one-note for my liking and during her initial scenes with the character under stress she becomes a near hysterical annoyance shouting at those around her, but Weisz being the talented actress she is evolves Marta Shearing throughout her journey with Aaron Cross to a point where she gains some guts and contributes well to the overall story. The utterly brilliant David Strathairn is criminally underused in the cast as his character contributes little other than a small connection between this film and ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’.

The Bourne series is renowned for its thrilling action and smart, intriguing stories; both are out in force for this entry. The action of the film is marginally more contained than it has been in previous Bourne films but one of my personal action highlights of the film has all the intensity and ferocious combat one comes to expect from a Bourne film, it takes place during a shootout at an isolated house about an hour into the movie, here Jeremy Renner shows his prowess for action and performing stunts and with some great direction by Tony Gilroy ensures that this sequence feels authentically Bourne in tone and execution. I’ve already mentioned before my complaints with the overly drawn out conspiratorial dialogue scenes concerning Eric Byer and his cohorts, the remainder of the script however is well written and polished to work best with the actor playing the role such as Jeremy Renner whose dialogue sounds very natural.

Renner and Weisz during the excellent motorcycle chase towards the climax of the film.

An important thing to note before seeing this film is to be aware of how vastly different both in pace and scope this film is to the rest of the series. The plot of this film is relatively encapsulated and low-key when compared to the country hopping thrillers of Jason Bourne, however this isn’t to the detriment of ‘The Bourne Legacy’ as it works very well for this movie and provides it with a distinct tone of its own so that when events occasionally spiral into those of ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ the viewer is both reminded of the connection and aware of their differences.

Most of my complaints about this film concern the first half of the film and in particular the first hour, which drags quite a lot and could have easily been edited down to a more interesting cut. For the first half of the film the story does a quite poor job of keeping the viewer up to date with the plot as it sporadically jumps to different locations, times and different times within some locations without any indication to the audience of the date or place. Whilst it isn’t wholly difficult to follow if close attention is paid I can still appreciate the frustration that it would no doubt cause the casual viewer to experience.

In my opinion ‘The Bourne Legacy’ has been a complete success in what it set out to do and that was to prove that there was more to this story than simply Jason Bourne. It may not be the best in the series, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ still retains that, but it certainly is a close second thanks to its talented leading man and electrifying action.

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