No Damon, no problem, right?
Jeremy Renner is a capable action star, so there shouldn’t be any hiccups. Plus he’s a great actor as evinced by his Oscar nominations for “The Hurt Locker” and “The Town.” And Rachel Weisz is a perfectly capable actress to match him; after all, she has the Oscar win (for her riveting work in “The Constant Gardener“) that has eluded Renner’s grasp.
Not to mention, the franchise is in the capable hands of Tony Gilroy. He wrote the first three installments in the “Bourne” universe, which were all awesome. And once those were done, he moved onto direct the taut, immaculately constructed “Michael Clayton” (earning him Oscar nominations for writing and directing) and the twisty thriller “Duplicity” (which does not get nearly enough credit).
Yet for all these reasons that ”The Bourne Legacy” should work, it absolutely flops. The expression the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall has more to do with the expectations surround the film than an evaluation of quality; however, a spin-off, sequel, or whatever the heck this movie “Legacy” claims to be cannot escape being measured against its predecessors. And while the Greengrass/Damon films had a palpable sense of forward momentum that propelled the franchise, Renner and Gilroy’s take on the “Bourne” universe is dead on arrival and drags for 135 long minutes.
Damon’s Jason Bourne was a man looking to sort through an unknown past while trying to discover the humanity within himself; Renner’s Aaron Cross is essentially little more than a biochemical weapon whose sole motivation is to get the pills necessary to keep his unique abilities. Even if this is just a largely expository film that will eventually burgeon into a larger, much more complex story, “The Bourne Identity” at least managed to feel like it was providing us a full three-act show, not merely a prologue. ”The Bourne Legacy” suffers from a nearly constant state of inertia, one that makes the movie’s length feel particularly cumbersome as very little seems to happen over the course of the entire film.
And unlike Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton,” where no shot or line was wasted, “The Bourne Legacy” squanders a number of opportunities to humanize Cross, particularly in the long, stark Alaskan sequences at the beginning of the film. With no reason to care about Renner’s soulless super weapon, why bother to engage in the movie at all? The way Gilroy obsesses over making Cross an object, a federal Frankenstein, makes the movie feel like a thriller about disarming a nuclear bomb rather than one about espionage and government conspiracy.
It doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz feels more like a composite of bomb squad and scientist stock characters. As Dr. Marta Shearing, she has no personality of her own, no real purpose other than to be the damsel in distress – until she is necessary to save Cross. For all those film theorists who criticize movies for using women as ancillary characters that only serve to aid the male quest … here you go, a new paradigm.
Though perhaps the most disturbing thing about Gilroy’s “The Bourne Legacy” is its use of fight and chase scenes. Their impeccable technical execution made them marvels whose power even the Academy couldn’t ignore in Paul Greengrass’ films. In the original “Bourne” films, these action scenes served the story; now, Gilroy is using the story to serve the action. The screenwriter takes a backseat to the stunt double in this movie, turning what was once a fascinatingly cerebral franchise into just another vacuous action flick. Stop the “Bourne” world, I want to get off. C- /