Monday, September 3, 2012

Does Four Make a Legacy?

You guys, I have Some Thoughts about The Bourne Legacy. I know that movie is old by internet standards, but the film's media screening and subsequent release came about during MIFF and the weeks after wherein I was ridiculously ill. So, as you can guess, I'm only just getting around to seeing this fourth instalment of the Bourne franchise. Tony Gilroy has been bumped up from mere screenwriter to director, too, and made a film that acts as a reboot, a sequel, and a prequel all at once. It's a nifty trick and one that will certainly benefit viewers who have recently seen the prior films (even the opening shot of this film directly references the same shot of The Bourne Identity), but also one that will distract and ultimately compare negatively for those same people.

This latest film is quite decent, for sure. It's competently made - which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but given some recent examples of Hollywood action filmmaking I think it's a fair enough remark to make - and the actors are fine, but it never truly comes close to achieving the same success as the franchise's second entry, The Bourne Supremacy (a bona fide master work of contemporary action filmmaking if you ask me), nor even the lesser, but still fantastic, bookends, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Ultimatum. Anyway, it's late and you probably aren't all that interested in a formal review, so let's just run through the pros and the cons of The Bourne Legacy because there are a few.


PRO
Look, let's just this out in the open right here at the start. Jeremy Renner is a good looking man, and it's certainly always going to be at least somewhat entertaining to watch him running around making a sweat. Preferably without a shirt on, which he does here within minutes of the film starting. He possesses a very similar "every man" quality that Matt Damon had, which makes his good looks somewhat identifiable. Yes, he's got the muscles and the movie star good looks, but they're in proportion to real life. It's far easier to watch a movie such as this - that is, one that purports to exist within the real world rather than a fantasy bloodsport one like those of the 1980s hey day - when the lead actor doesn't look like they've spent their life in the gym and using facial beauty products (even when we know they have!)

CON
Tony Gilroy must be sheepish. That, or he just isn't particularly talented. Now, we know that's not true because Michael Clayton was a win and I am a fan of his comedic follow-up, Duplicity, too, even if many others are not. So, the only explanation for this film's complete aping of the Paul Greengrass aesthetic is that he was afraid to tamper with the pre-existing, successful formula that had worked so well in the past. Gilroy's camera isn't quite as shaky as Greengrass', but there are very similar visual effects at work here. Lots of zooming and swooping, hot-footed action set-pieces that are filmed to make an audience feel as if they're right in there in the action with Jason Bourne whatever the character's name is (I honestly don't remember, but IMDb tells me it is Aaron Cross - pronounced "Erin" as is the American vernacular).

Still, it might have been nice for Gilroy to try and forge his own style for his big promotion. One of the things that makes the Alien franchise so interesting is the way its directors all lend their individual film a new and different style. While there's not much that can be done with this film in terms of creative directions, something new would have made The Bourne Legacy feel more essential and less like, well, the fourth film in a well-worn, but perhaps a bit tired, film series.

PRO
The action was more or less pretty great, especially the motorbike chase through Manila. It is preceded by a rooftop escape sequence that, hello, mirrors Ultimatum (but also The Fast Five!) and feels overly protracted, but at least it's energetic and the surprise element of Louis Ozawa Changchien was nice. Still, did anybody else feel like the motorbike sequence was leading to one last big confrontation? One between Renner and Edward Norton with his awesome grey hair, perhaps?

CON
I love Joan Allen - I really, really love her - but I'm not exactly sure why she's here. Donna Murphy was doing a perfectly respectable job as the sharply-featured character actress who dons a pantsuit and makes big decisions in a room full of boys, so the inclusion of Allen feels particularly unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, it's always nice to see her (especially lately since she appears to have vanished from cinema screens altogether, although her puffy face is a concern), but getting shoehorned into this film isn't how I'd like her utilised by filmmakers.

And it must be said, is this the shortest ever amount of screentime given to a performer whose name is featured prominently on the film's marketing? Her role amounts to about little more than 45 seconds, I'd estimate. And yet there she is credited fourth after Renner, Rachel Weisz, and Norton. The same can be said for Albert Finney, who gets one scene with a brief monologue. Meanwhile, perfectly acceptable actors like Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, Scott Glenn, Ċ½eljko Ivanek, and Stacy Keach (!!!) rest in the cast unnoticed. I am aware there is some contractual obligations going on here, but that's a stretch and they surely know it.

PRO
Once the film gave up its "Bourne goes native" act at the start, the film was genuinely quite exciting. Renner's reboot is curiously sidelined towards the start, relegated the character to a supporting context. After the shooting sequence, however, it was all systems go. At 135 minutes long it is inarguably far too long, especially for a film with such little plot momentum ("I need the chems!" is as far as that gets, really), but it maintains the pace well enough.


CON
Is that the best plot they could come up with? Really? Without a Michael Crichton source to get their inspiration from it appears the brothers Gilroy could only come up with a story about a renegade mercenary who needs the drugs they've been giving him to keep going. Really. The entire film is one big effort to get him more drugs. In fact, the film plays like like one of those Aussie kitchen sink dramas about a man participating in a clinical study about heroin who needs that one last fix and travels to East Asia to get it. Except, ya know, this time there's fight sequences, and not the of-mind-body-and-soul variety.

PRO
I thought Renner acquainted himself quite nicely with the role for many of the reasons I already discussed. I liked the way he (/ his stunt double) was routinely filmed climbing up walls like Spider-Man, although some of the stuff in that opening rock climbing sequence was a bit fanciful for my taste. I did get a good chuckle out of the idea of Renner gunning for yet another franchise in his feather cap: The Terminator! Riding around on a motorbike with a leather jacket and sunglasses certainly brought up Judgement Day imagery that was hard to ignore.

CON
Jeepers, those Manila police are quite shit, 'ey? It all gets a bit Blues Brothers towards the end.

PRO
Shane Jacobson! Haha, you guys, Kenny is in The Bourne Legacy! That's too wonderful for words.

CON
It's not The Bourne Supremacy. :/

So, basically, it's a pretty good effort, but one that certainly looks weaker in the shadow of its predecessors. I'd certainly see another one, but I'd suggest more problem solving secret agents and less Beardy McBeardman in the forest. Yes? Yes. B-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you mean a Robert Ludlum source.