Far from being a lean and exciting action caper, The Bourne Legacy wastes far too much time trying to justify its own existence.
“Doctor, doctor, you’ve got to help me. It’s my uncle – he thinks he’s a chicken!”
“Well, bring him in, we’ll soon have him cured.”
“I would… but we need the eggs.”
Depending on your temperament, this sidelong puzzler is either a gob of contrived silliness or a fractal-scarred feedback loop of dependence and mental disorder from which there is no logical escape. Both interpretations also happen to apply to this mostly dismal and wholly inessential Bourne hangover that wants its audience to trade-up their investment in Matt Damon’s titular action hero without ever laying him to rest and promising to get on with new business.
Indeed, there are aspects of the film so reliant on our hazy memories of the labyrinthine intricacies of Damon’s swansong, The Bourne Ultimatum, that only true adherents to the franchise will likely grasp the full substance of Legacy’s plot. The rest will be forced to grab hold of anything they can and cling on for dear life.
Taking place simultaneously with the last act of Ultimatum, Tony Gilroy’s over-conceptualised film has already put itself at something of a disadvantage. No-one was expecting a nod/wink 007-style regeneration of the Bourne character, but surely it would have been a good idea to make more than a partial break with the preceding trilogy?
Instead, the film takes one step forward and two steps back in introducing us to Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross, an Outcome (read: Treadstone; read: CIA) agent who shares not only Bourne’s ass-kicking skillset, but also has a face that looks like a (admittedly handsome) par-boiled pork joint. Cross is labouring through a training mission in the Alaskan wilderness, the success of which relies upon him getting to his destination in time to receive his latest dosage of some little blue and green pills that keep his spy brain inflated and his muscles bulging.
But we’ll come back to those pills in a moment.
When the top brass back in Washington become skittish over the Bourne farrago – or simply because these films rely on lone, highly-resourced black-ops wet-jobbers getting back at shadowy, corrupt Agencies like Grendel sacking the Mead Hall – Cross is targeted for elimination by his higher-ups and has to go underground in order to secure his super pills/clear his name/save an orphanage – it doesn’t really matter, as long as there’s rote spy shit and dull, close-quarters ‘elbow fighting’ every few minutes.
Soon Rachel Weisz’s jittery pharmacologist is in tow and the pair are off on an underpowered jaunt through such recognisable situations and locales as a chill, elegant clapboard house in the boonies (Road to Perdition), a clanking factory assembly line (The Terminator) and an under-revved motorbike chase through misc Oriental slumland (Tomorrow Never Dies) while Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and assorted pasty-faced Agency rhubarb-merchants bark into phones, stare at computer monitors and take long, dreary meetings in an attempt to stop them.
Fair enough, you say: New Things don't actually exist any more. But Gilroy has failed to illuminate these familiar features in any new light. The result is a talky, confusing film that’s light on action and heavy on unnecessary exposition. It feels less like a sleek, post-9/11 espionage thriller than the sort of quaint '60s potboiler – The Quiller Memorandum, say, or The Osterman Weekend – you might come across on afternoon TV when pulling a sickie.
Indeed, it’s a shame that cinematographer Robert Elswit couldn’t muster up some of the verve and energy he brought to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – a spy film that, for all its faults, at least tried to shake some fresh fruit from the tree.
The Bourne Legacy’s strengths are, alas, few in number. Renner does his utmost, but even he doesn’t look like he knows exactly what’s going on. Meanwhile, Weisz delivers one of her go-to ‘flustered Primrose Hill yummy-mummy in need of a gulp of Merlot’ performances, which irritates from the off. There’s one taut, competently staged shoot-out in a med-lab that you might hear raved about elsewhere, and it does at least grab the attention, but if you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park/Aliens/an episode of Spooks then it’s unlikely you’ll get too excited.
And then there’s those pills.
To its credit, the film treads very lightly when it comes to the crumbly little tablets that ramp up Renner’s brains and biceps, but that can’t quite disguise the original, boneheaded idea to saddle the lead character with a ridiculous, juvenile video game power-up that, when you take a moment to consider it, risks pitching the film in amongst the likes of Crank, Speed, Universal Soldier and any number of dubious, low-rent clock-tickers.
Solid director, interesting cast, ironclad template… What could possibly go wrong?
Oh. Virtually every choice director Gilroy makes is the wrong one, resulting in a film that sputters and stalls before it ever gets going.
Bourne to Run? A Star is Bourne? Bourne Slippy? This franchise is going to have to come up with something pretty special if it hopes to limp past this miserable entry.