Saw The Bourne Legacy tonight. In some ways, I find my thoughts on it are a bit colored by a screenwriting class I just took.
First off, I’ll say I think it’s the second best of the “Bourne” series. The Bourne Identity is still the best one by far, but Bourne three is kind of a wash, and Bourne two is a total mess. That isn’t to say I don’t have problems with the film, as a matter of fact I find some HUGE problems in it, but what it does well, it does really well, and there is a lot more to it than 2 or 3.
So, my problems with it. It feels like a movie with no third act. The first act is incredibly long, taking almost an hour to set up the characters and the situation, then when the action actually starts happening in the second act, everything is drawn out waaaay too much, and suddenly the end just sort of happens, as if the story wasn’t finished, but it had gotten so long they felt they just had to stop the film where it was. Jeremy Renner is also not as strong as Matt Damon. Damon’s Bourne was just a total bad a$$, whatever other problems the later Bourne movies had, and Renner just doesn’t pack the bad a$$ package quite the same way. Even worse, there is only ever one scene between Renner’s character and the main bad guy (Edward Norton playing…… um…… Generic Main Bad Guy) and it’s a flash back that serves no purpose what-so-ever in the story other then to have a scene between the hero and the bad guy. The only character who provides any sort of physical threat to Renner is so underdeveloped he makes the assassins Bourne faced look like Hamlet in comparison. Finally, towards the end a story element is briefly touched on suggesting that the Pamela Landy character from Bourne 2 and 3 is having the event of those movies unfairly blamed on her…. but it is introduced so late that nothing is done with the idea, so a viewer is left thinking “So What?”
Okay, so it sounds like I hate the movie, but it does have redeeming features. I mentioned that the first act is long… but this is bad only because it doesn’t leave enough time for a third act (a problem made worse by the bloat of the actions scenes in the second act), but it’s a rather interesting premise, that the events shown in the previous Bourne movies had some far reaching consequences that we didn’t know about, and many other “programs” have become exposed because of those events. Jeremy Renner plays the new protagonist, Erin Cross. When the program he is involved in, Operation Outcome, is exposed, the decision is made by Edward Norton’s character (in a horribly bland generic bad guy role…. one of the most boring parts I’ve ever seen Norton play) to dispose of the program. This means killing all of it’s agents, and the doctors associated with it. Unlike Treadstone, the main program in the first three Bourne movies, this program involves assassins who have been augmented with a number of drugs. This opens the door for some ethical questions regarding the planned alteration of people through drug use and genetic enhancement. While long, and full of exposition, the story is actually compelling and interesting, and provides a much more developed story then any of the previous Bourne films. While long, and VERY exposition heavy for an action film, I would consider the first act the most interesting part of the film, and ultimately its saving grace. It also includes a very tense and well done scene involving the dispatch of the doctors associated with program Outcome at the hands of a sleeper agent made to look like a random shooting. Rachel Weisz is also worth mentioning, providing the strongest female role in the series to date. She is much more intelligent and capable then either Stiles’ or Potente’s characters were, playing the loan surviving doctor who Renner needs to help him survive withdrawal from his drugs. Erin Cross (Renner) it turns out was of a nearly non functional IQ level prior to receiving his drugs, and with the drugs no longer available, he stands to lose more than a person can imagine (going from a smart talented assassin, to a barely functional person with a deficient IQ). While I thought Renner was not as strong as Damon, I will say his character had a warmth and certain level of compassion that Damon’s Bourne seemed to lack.
Over all, it comes out far ahead of Bourne 2 and 3, but far behind Bourne 1. I think many problems with the film would be alleviated somewhat by a follow up picture to clean up the loose ends, and actually show Renner’s character taking the fight back to the man so to speak, so at this point I kind of hope for another film in the series. It was nice to see the shakey camera work of Bourne 2 and 3 dropped, and I find now I would like to see a movie featuring Bourne and Cross meeting up.
So, my final grade, 6.5 out of 10. A movie with no solid ending and bloated action scenes, that is rescued and elevated by a strong and interesting first act.