Does anyone really remember the plots of the three earlier Bourne films? I mean, really remember them? I remember Jason Bourne being a product of some special program, but what exactly it was and how it worked and who it involved…I haven’t a clue and I don’t think most other people I know do either (they were like The Big Sleep, but without the double entendres). No, when it comes down to it, I think one can safely say that when it came to the plots, they were something about something with people doing something about something else. But it didn’t matter. That’s not why we enjoyed the films. Probably because if we did, we probably would have found the basic ideas somewhat ludicrous and hard to take seriously.
I’m not sure Tony Gilroy, the director and co-writer (with Dan Gilroy) of The Bourne Legacy (as well as the writer of the earlier Bourne films), agrees. He seems to really take this somewhat over the top, conspiracy theory plot very seriously. He’s not satisfied for it to be something about something, he wants it to be SOMETHING about SOMETHING. And I’m not sure that is working to his advantage here.
In the previous two films, there are a few things I remember that made me love them. The first is Paul Greengrass’ herky jerky approach to the directing, giving it a hand held documentary feel to it. He kept things moving and the tension revved up to the nth degree. I also remember that the plot was made up of a series of scenes in which the character of Bourne came up with the wildest Rube Goldberg schemes to achieve his goals, often jaw droppingly brilliant in their execution. Finally, there was the cast of Matt Damon, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine, Scott Glenn, among others.
When it comes to The Bourne Legacy, I feel that the movie falls a bit short in every category mentioned above. Tony Gilroy’s direction is a bit sluggish at times. It feels as if he’s often focusing on the least interesting aspect of the story—the dialog and plot. It’s not that there aren’t some good lines here and there (one about a gun shooting down a drone and Jeremy Renner as the Bourne stand in Aaron Cross upset that Rachel Weisz, as virologist Marta Shearing doesn’t even know his name).
And it’s not that there aren’t some exciting scenes. Though I have to say that the person who deserves the kudos here is the locations manager or whoever found that incredible three story house in the middle of nowhere; a huge lab in the Philippines; as well as that neighborhood in Manilla where the final chase scene takes place. It’s only in these scenes that Gilroy seems to get any sort of rhythm going (the showdown in that house that has as much character development as anyone else in the film is definitely one of the high points of the film). At other times, like the long drawn out scenes with the government operatives (headed by Ed Norton) talking to each other and explaining everything and a scene of mass murder at a lab that goes on for far, far, far longer than is justified by how much it contributes to the story, the forward momentum tends to stall.
And the story just has problems getting going. It takes forever for it to start (there are a long series of scenes at the beginning with Renner that are never that clearly explained or justified and don’t seem to go anywhere). And there is nothing in the individual scenes that come close to the cleverness of the earlier movies. In fact, the whole thing sort of feels like Mission Impossible the movie as opposed to Mission Impossible the TV series. It’s just one chase and action scene (which are the most exciting parts of the film) followed by one long, somewhat bland dialog scene, followed by a chase and action scene., followed by…well, you get the idea. However, I have to give it props for that one thing that Weisz does at the climax which is almost worth the price of admission alone.
When it comes to the acting, no one gives a bad performance and Weisz becomes more and more interesting as the story moves along. Ed Norton plays a dislikeable character so dislikeably, he’s often difficult to watch (which is a compliment, I think). However, it’s Stacy Keach, as the head of the CIA, that probably comes across the strongest here; he seems the most relaxed in his role, not straining to get his character across. But whereas I was heavily impressed by the cast of the earlier films and what they did, for some reason, this time round in watching Norton, Renner and Weisz, all I could think of was, “what are these fine actors doing in this film?”
All in all, if you like exciting action scenes that really get your motor going, you might like this movie more than I did. I doubt anybody thinks it comes up to the previous entries in the series, but there is that thing that Weisz does at the climax that is almost worth the price of admission alone.