The Bourne Legacy
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th August 2012
Nice-guy Matt Damon first went Jason Bourne 10 years ago, showing surprising physical prowess and an emotionless stare that contributed in large part to the ensuing trilogy’s well-earned success. When we last saw him at the end of 2007’s Bourne Ultimatum, he was face down in a river, the path enticingly clear for yet another sequel.
So when The Bourne Legacy was announced for release in 2012, we die-hardest of fans were thrown a Bourne-like curve-ball: there would be no Damon, and no Paul Greengrass (director of the first three). Sensibly, rather than recast Bourne, this fourth film creates a side-story with Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross – another Treadstone agent who, on realising the agency is out to kill him, “goes rogue”.
Renner got his hard-man credentials in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker and The Town. Here we meet Cross swimming in icy depths and fighting off wolves, though it is immediately evident he has emotional sensitivity, as he chooses not to shoot a deer that is frolicking with its offspring. Once Cross realises he is being hunted, his special agent skills come to the fore, and he teams up with nerdy scientist Rachel Weisz on an escapade best not spoiled here.
Tony Gilroy dons the director’s parka for the first time, having written the previous three Bourne films, along with this one. It’s a reassuring play by the studio, because he understands Bourne’s motivation and can thus project that into a new protagonist.
There are a couple of big set-pieces, though nothing with the power and bombast of Ultimatum‘s Waterloo Station. Manila stands in for Morocco in the now-obligatory rooftop chase (granted, Bond has learnt much from Bourne and is all the better for it), and some motorcycle madness is heart-in-mouth stuff.
But Gilroy sure can spin a story and write a wordy script. Dove-tailing immediately from the previous film’s events, there is cursory reference to Bourne but enough chat about Treadstone and Blackbriar that if you haven’t seen the first three films you will be completely out of your depth.
This Bourne saunters into the party with the nonchalance of someone who doesn’t feel he needs to introduce himself. It’s a brave decision not to make this blockbuster a standalone feature, and one that will only pay off if fans are prepared to take Renner into their hearts.
There are strong (albeit boardroom-bound) performances from Edward Norton and Dennis Boutsikaris (Law & Order). However, for those who long for what they loved previously, there’s not enough Pam Landy, and the old guard appears almost as ghosts in stolen flashbacks. But if you’re up for a talky film executed well, then Bourne’s legacy won’t have been left in vain.