Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Reborn Bourne Leaves a Lasting Legacy

     When we first meet Aaron Cross, the new hero of the Bourne franchise that is still surprisingly good, he's hanging out in Alaska, popping mysterious pills like an Oxycontin addict, making superhuman leaps and having a William Tell-esque marksmanship with his high-powered rifle. He is seemingly in a training exercise to see how the human body responds to horrendous conditions and unknown medications that he has to take at certain time intervals. The first bit of this new entry in the hugely popular franchise could pass for an original thriller that wouldn't need to draw connections to Matt Damon's trilogy. However, The Bourne Legacy--with its new plot, new star, and surprising innovation to the formula--morphs into a perfectly good and worthwhile entry into the growing franchise that is better than any viewer should expect it to be.
     As the plot moves along, we realize that this is a Bourne film through and through, with all of its secret backroom government discussions and brutal hand-to-hand combat fights that work incredibly well. Much of the success has to do with the Bourne franchise's new star, Jeremy Renner: yes, ever since his intense turn in 2008's The Hurt Locker (easily one of the best films of that year), Renner has taken a role in just about any franchise that will write him a paycheck (Marvel's superhero universe, Mission Impossible), but he really shines bright here. It helps that he always brings an intensity that is rare in young, modern actors; he's a guy that thinks before he acts, yet always seems to make the right decision, usually in life-or-death situations. Unlike Matt Damon's portrayal of Jason Bourne, who was surprised at his own killing skill set (just as the viewer was surprised that Matt Damon could be such a force to be reckoned with), Renner is fully capable from the beginning, showing an aptitude for pulling off I-can't-believe-that-just-happened maneuvers.
     Speaking of Jason Bourne and his escapades, Aaron Cross (obviously) gets put in a similar situation: flushed out from a secret government project, similar to "Treadstone" in the previous Bourne films, he goes on the run to hunt for a way to have all of the abilities that his daily medication gives him without having to pop the pills. So he meets up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), an expert on the blue/green pills and the way that they interact with human genes. She has problems of her own, as she knows way too much information on this secret government project once the metaphorical excrement hits the oscillating air device.
     Leading the charge to take out anyone and everyone who knows far too much about this dangerous program is Eric Byer, played with seriousness by Edward Norton, an actor who is a natural at playing intense characters that always seem to be trying to fix something. The rest of the cast contains a bunch of notable names, whether they are in the film for five minutes or five seconds. Usually it's quick flashes of dialogue or arguing about video surveillance footage or drone radars--all of these scenes show the most modern of spy-type technology: it would come as no surprise that in the inevitable Bourne 5 these electronics-fueled government types will be able to tell where Aaron Cross last ate lunch from a Google Earth image of a post-poo toilet bowl.
     This wouldn't be a Bourne film without some great action scenes, and Legacy has plenty of them. The first scenes in Alaska are cool and cold, as Aaron battles wolves and the elements like Liam Neeson in The Grey. The scenes involving Weisz's Doc involve an added tension, as Aaron has to battle two things at once: bad guys wielding automatic weapons and Marta's ineptitude at hurting people without emotion. A chase around the rooftops in Manila starts off strong, with leaps, bounds, and plunges up and down the uneven metal roof terrain. This chase finishes with a vehicular chase, kind of a signature of the Matt Damon films, but Legacy's was a bit unrealistic (particularly when Aaron grinds down a stair-railing with a motorcycle better than Tony Hawk could have done with a skateboard). The finish was brutal and unexpected, though.
     This fourth entry in the Bourne franchise was directed by Tony Gilroy, who had previously written or co-written the three previous entries. He also directed the slick (and good) George Clooney thriller, Michael Clayton, about backroom mental breakdowns and lawsuits at a major corporation. He is plenty fit for this job: The Bourne Legacy looks great and moves at a breakneck speed, even when there are long scenes of dialogue on the screen (and even when the plot becomes indecipherable at certain moments). Ultimately, even though the film ends quite abruptly with a (Spoiler Alert!) set up for the inevitable sequel, The Bourne Legacy, with its interesting addiction plot and the addition of agents with better strength, stamina and intelligence, is a step in a certain direction. Not a step forward, nor a step backward: a step sideways...into intriguing territory.     (B+)

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