Matt Damon, his fictional character and the director who oversaw the last two terrific films in the Bourne espionage trilogy, Paul Greengrass, have all bowed out. But Universal isn’t through making money with a pre-sold name that has grossed close to $1 billion worldwide. So you get “The Bourne Legacy.”
As these things go, the movie isn’t half-bad. The producers wisely came to the writer who spent seven years writing all three “Bourne” pictures, Tony Gilroy, pleading for a new story, and even dangling a directing assignment in front of him. He bit.
There will be those happy to be back in the land of the impossible chases, escapes and coincidences. There will others just as intrigued with the writing strategies of Gilroy and his brother Dan as they implant a new story and character within the framework of the previous two movies.
It’s neatly done but, of course, wildly implausible.
What the shelf life is for a movie series is hard to calculate. “The Bourne Legacy” chugs along efficiently enough were it a brand new movie but even it, due to the strategies of the Gilroy brothers, keeps referring back to the previous movies, which reminds you what you’re missing.
For Jason Bourne wasn’t just a spy caught up in the wet work of his immoral trade; he was a man with a problem. For three movies, the man, suffering from amnesia, fought to establish, in his own mind, who he was.
That was a surprisingly compelling story line, vastly superior to the new one concocted for spy Aaron Cross, played ably enough by Jeremy Renner. Tellingly, his name is barely mentioned. And his only problem seems to be where to get good “meds.”
This let’s-not-kill-off-a-franchise film tries to intertwine a parallel story with the final two “Bourne” films — scenes from which crop up in the new movie. This means that the CIA renegade Treadstone project, which was renamed Outcome in the previous film, is only “the tip of the iceberg.”
So there are rogue agents within the CIA of which even other rogue agents are completely unaware. These new and more dastardly bureaucrats, are headed by Edward Norton’s Col. Eric Byer, positively swimming in evil intent.
They are so threatened by the disclosures Jason Bourne will visit upon their illicit domain, called NARG or National Research Assay Group — which uses behavioral-design drugs to produce superhuman warrior-spies — that they intend to shut down their own project before Bourne goes public
No, NATG doesn’t trip off the tongue easily and by this time Treadstone equals Outcome equals NARG is getting really silly.
Anyway when the Gilroys say shut down a program they mean killing anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the program — its medical team, agents in the field and anyone who happened upon a stray memo.
So do the math: An army of secret assassins sets out to eliminate a near battalion of scientists and spies to keep the damn thing a secret and no one is supposed to notice all the bodies piling up outside Langley.
Well, Universal wanted a sequel. No one said it had to make any sense.
The design of the movie has its thrills including a climatic 20-minute-plus chase through the streets of Manila. Yes, I did say Manila, a crowded and congested city where most chases wouldn’t last a single block.
Essentially, Aaron and the one surviving member of the NARG medical team, genetic scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (the beauteous Rachel Weisz), are pursued by assassins in the U.S. and Philippines, drone missiles and even a pack of wolves.
Aaron’s main mission is to get his “chems,” pills that these pharmaceutical warriors are now addicted to. Which means he and Marta must use false IDs to sneak out of the U.S. and into Manila, where the drugs are manufactured, and the good doctor can perform a medical procedure that will … well, it’s unclear but I think it turns Aaron into a superman of sorts.
You’ll have to wait until the next “Bourne” or perhaps “Avengers” movie to find out for sure.
No attempt is made in this film to link the couple on the run romantically although there are hints this may come in another film. It won’t be easy though as Renner, a solid workmanlike actor, is not a warm actor like Damon.
Weisz exudes plenty of sexual energy beneath her lab gowns and traveling gear but whether she can ignite a spark in Renner remains to be seen.
I don’t mean to suggest you won’t have good time. The scenery is thrilling, the two leads highly photogenic, the stunts awesome and I really did get off on all the plot strategies to legitimize the new reboot. The way is open for at least two more films if the public is willing. (Translation: If the box office warrants.)
So congrats to all the extras wranglers, street blockers, trained wolves and film commissions in Alberta, Canada; Seoul, Korea; the Philippines; New York City and whatever locale stood in for Karachi, Pakistan for jobs well done.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit did splendid work shooting the production design by Kevin Thompson and James Newton Howard’s score keeps reminding you that you are watching a movie.
Was there any doubt?
Opens: Aug. 10, 2012 (Universal)
Production: Universal presents in association with Relativity Media a Kennedy/Marshall production in association with Captivate Entertainment
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, Oscar Isaac, John Arcilla, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Donna Murphy, Michael Chernus, Corey Stoll, Zeljko Ivanek, Shane Jacobson, Elizabeth Marvel, John Douglas Thompson, David Wilson Barnes, Neil Brooks Cunningham, Corey Johnson, Michael Berresse
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriters: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Story by: Tony Gilroy
Inspired by the novels created by: Robert Ludlum
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith
Executive producers: Henry Morrison, Jennifer Fox
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Production designer: Kevin Thompson
Music: James Newton Howard
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: John Gilroy
PG-13 rating, 134 minutes