Friday, August 10, 2012

Overlong ‘Bourne Legacy’ features dazzling chases, convoluted plot

By Steve Crum

Fans of the first three Bourne movies will want to see this fourth franchise installment, The Bourne Legacy, which--as the title implies--is a kind of homage. Those who have never seen the previous films (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) will definitely want to see those movies before seeing Legacy. Otherwise, the complex plot, which references the previous films, will be confusing to the point of exasperation. I did see and greatly enjoy the previous Bournes, but was dizzied at what the heck was going on in this new take. No doubt this is the end of the franchise.

Director/co-screenwriter Tony Gilroy helms The Bourne Legacy, his first time in that director batting position. Once again, the story is “inspired” by Robert Ludlum’s Bourne book series, much like the James Bond movies are loose adaptations of Ian Fleming’s novels. Unfortunately, metaphorically, Gilroy does not score any homer with this one. That is no slight to the cuticle biting action sequences that earmark the Bourne movies. In the first two Bournes (that sounds so familial), the action balanced the dialogue and character development. In Legacy, the action really dominates, punctuating often long, rambling dialogue sequences. The capable actors do their best in both realms, particularly leads Jeremy Renner (as Aaron Cross) and Rachel Weisz (Dr. Marta Shearing). 

Replacing Jason Bourne as the central character, without a “new” Jason Bourne, is the daunting task here. Instead of Matt Damon in the lead, we have a kind of Bourne wannabe, since Cross has been trained and chemically programmed by the same nefarious, CIA connected government agency that previously shafted Jason five directions. To supposedly make matters clearer, which made matters even more muddled to me, there are constant references to Jason Bourne along with flashing his 8 x 10 Matt Damon photo a half dozen times throughout the story. Hopefully, Damon received payment for his product placement. 

There is a stunning Canadian location sequence (filmed in Alberta) opening the story, in which we are introduced to central character Cross as he trains himself to survive in desolate mountain surroundings. He climbs, jumps, ropes, and even dives into freezing water, a stunt actually performed by Renner in one take. For the unaware, the Bourne films feature actual stunt men and women as opposed to digital effects. This is a plus for an action movie these days, and the difference truly shows. The reason for his training is answered in due time, so in the meantime, we get to see some grueling workouts. Little by little, Cross’s identity is sketched out through flashbacks and concurrent conversations at CIA headquarters, featuring Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, and Stacy Keach as slimy leaders upholding what they consider truth and justice the American way. They are tied in with secret testing on soldiers (like Bourne and Cross).

A planned, tragic incident at the government’s secret spy lab triggers a chase involving both Cross and chemist Shearing (Weisz), with CIA operatives in pursuit. It all has to do with Shearing helping Cross deal with his (CIA) drug dependency. I won’t spoil the plot with specifics. By the way, the on location filming in Manila is spot on and worth the reported hassle filming in that extremely crowded downtown locale. Much of Legacy’s best action bits were shot there, with the motorcycle chase finale the most breathtaking of them all. Forgive my hedging, but the early on sequences of wolves attacking Cross as well as the drone firing missiles at our hero are impressive too. Kudos to  editor John Gilroy and composer James Newton Howard for heightening the suspense and action. It is a shame similar accolades cannot be given to the film’s dialogue and plot. 

Leaving the overlong screening, two strangers walking behind me were seriously trying to figure out plot details, particularly in regard to Aaron and Jason. I was hoping to get some answers myself before they turned the corner.  
GRADE on a scale of A-F: C
At least the trailer is brief: