At times it can be difficult to admit one’s mistakes. We like to think we’re right most of the time and even we aren’t, we often find ways to excuse, justify, or brush off those mistakes. Today I must bite the bullet and concede a lapse in judgment: I was wayyyy too excited about The Bourne Legacy. As a major fan of the original trilogy, I got caught up in the excitement of a new film, the casting of Jeremy Renner, and that magnificent tag line, “There was never just one.” I got ahead of myself, named this movie as one of my top ten most anticipated of the year, and let my expectations go unchecked heading into opening weekend. I was wrong and that disappointment undoubtedly tainted my viewing of a film that never quite measures up to what it could be.
Running concurrently with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, Legacy finds the CIA attempting to tie up all loose ends of their super-agent program known as Outcome that essentially used Bourne to develop a scientific method for genetic modification. All Outcome agents are quickly disposed of save for one: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a rebellious sort of lone wolf who is suddenly forced to go on the run and fight against the organization that made him who he is. In need of a final genetic procedure, Cross travels across the country to come to the aid of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), an Outcome lab rat who has herself run afoul of the CIA. With the head of the agency, Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton), hot on their tails, Cross and Shearing make a trek across the world in order to perform the procedure Cross desperately needs and give themselves a fighting chance of taking on the CIA.
The best thing I can say about The Bourne Legacy is that it tries. It tries very hard, in fact. Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for all of the previous Bourne films, clearly wants his film to be better than the previous entries and the failures herein have nothing to do with his effort. Likewise, the performances of the respective cast members are all of high quality. Norton excels when given the opportunity though he is underutilized and suffers from a character that should be bigger than it is. Weisz proves herself a valuable member of the cast and supersedes the one dimensional damsel in distress that I generally expect from this sort of role. Her character has a purpose and she brings it to life appropriately. More than anyone else, Renner acclimates himself to his role quite well and carries on in the tradition of Jason Bourne with flair. Renner shows off a range of abilities including action star potential and one scene in which he makes you forget you’re watching a summer blockbuster and instead remember his Academy Award-nominated turn in The Town.
That’s about where the positives end, however. All of Gilroy’s efforts to create a significant action thriller are for naught due to the listless nature of the pace and the overly complex narrative that sucks the life out of the better action sequences. Legacytakes FAR too long to gain traction and start moving and once it does it’s difficult as a viewer to switch gears. Gilroy needs a solid hour to explain his plot before we can get down to the action-centric entertainment we expect from this film. I can enjoy a complex action film as much as the next guy but whereas the original Bourne trilogy excelled in combining plot with action, Legacyjust stymies itself over and over. The script is kind of a mess to be honest and plays out like the Michael Claytonof Bourne films, a comparison that seems lazy considering that film is Gilroy’s claim to fame but is also completely fitting. There are some great action sequences in which Renner is fantastic but they are almost always swallowed up by an abyss of boring and seemingly needless plot complications that don’t serve a purpose. I believe Gilroy set out to make a thinking man’s action movie and instead created an incredible film to nap through on a Sunday afternoon if not for a few noisy interruptions.
As I seem to find myself typing far too often this year, Legacy isn’t a bad film. There are inspired moments and I think it’s worth seeing if only to catch Renner upping his physical game. Above all else, it lays the groundwork for future installments in the series which I have to believe will be much better than this one is and will hopefully bring Damon and Renner together for a round of pure, unadulterated awesomeness.