Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)
In the last “Bourne” footage we saw, from “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, a silhouetted figure floats in the water. We think he’s dead but he’s not. He’s Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and after a moment he swims away. The End.
In the first shots of “The Bourne Legacy” we see another silhouetted figure floating in the water. We think he’s Jason Bourne but he’s not. He’s the new guy, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who is in the midst of survival training in Alaska, and after a moment he swims away. The Beginning.
It was an interesting choice not to reboot the “Bourne” series (which admittedly would’ve been dull stuff), or simply tap Renner to play Bourne (a la the Bond series). Instead, writer-director Tony Gilroy, who wrote the entire “Bourne” trilogy and now gets to direct his first action movie, has his characters, in essence, “tag off” like in a wrestling match. As Jason Bourne tags off to Aaron Cross, above, so the douchebag government bureaucrats (heretofore: DGBs) tag off. We get reintroduced to such forgotten figures as Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), as well as the more familiar Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) and Pam Landy (Joan Allen), only to say good-bye to them. They’re replaced by Ret. Adm. Mark Turso, USN (Stacey Keach) and Ret. Col. Eric Byer, USAF (Ed Norton), who have to quell the repercussions of not only the CIA’s “Treadstone” program, which created Bourne, but also “Outcome,” a more sophisticated version of same under the auspices of the Dept. of Defense. And by “quell” I mean, yes, kill everyone involved. As with Watergate, the cover-up (killing U.S. agents) is much worse than the crime (creating U.S. agents to protect America).
The movies tag off, too. During the first half hour, as Cross battles snow and wolves and mountains in Alaska, and arrives at the checkpoint in record time, we get most of the previous movie from Byer’s perspective. He and his DGBs help kill that Guardian journalist in London. They’re up in arms when Bourne shows up in New York. And they’re busy killing their own creations before they too become little Bournes. Outcome #1 gets it in Pakistan, Outcome #4 in Seoul, Outcome #6 in D.C. They all take these pills as part of the program, blues and greens, and they’re simply given a new pill that causes them to bleed from the nose and die. That ends that. Noting more to worry about except our souls.
Except in Alaska. There, two agents, Outcome #s 3 and 5 (Oscar Isaac and Renner), hang in a cabin and warily watch one another. Our man Cross is a little more down-to-earth in his wariness, encouraging chatter, asking the other guy if he has any chems. Blues, specifically. He’s low. Apparently that’s bad.
Then they head outside. “You hearing that?” Cross asks. (We don’t.) “We should spread,” Cross says. A few seconds later, as he’s making his way toward higher ground, a missile obliterates the cabin. When the DOD kills someone in Alaska, they don’t have to be subtle about it.
At this point, all of Cross’ bio-engineered training clicks into place, and he runs, and blinds a drone airplane with a rifle shot, and covers up the tracking device in his hip; then he surgically removes it and force-feeds it to a wolf (I know), who is ultimately the one, poor critter, to go sky-high when the drones come calling.
The ‘Charly’ Legacy
What motivated Jason Bourne? He was a superagent who developed amnesia and needed to find out who he was, then tracked his creators to their lair. He’s basically Frankenstein. He’s the chickens coming home to roost.
What motivates Aaron Cross? He needs pills, man. It’s panic in pharmaceutical park. Apparently if he doesn’t get them, he’ll revert to his old self, which was a bit of a dim bulb. It’s “Charly” as action movie.
I.e., if the point of Bourne was to get closer to who he was, the point of Cross is to keep his old self at a distance.
So he heads back to the lab in D.C., where he got his pills, but which, he reads in the newspaper, has suffered a recent tragic event. One of the doctors there went nuts and killed every other scientist—save one. The pretty one, thankfully: Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Yes, this is Byer’s handiwork.
There’s a good scene, post-shooting, at the old home Marta is renovating in the isolated woods of Maryland. Federal agents show up, including Dr. Connie Dowd (Elizabeth Marvel), who mixes faux concern for Marta’s state of mind with real concern for the company’s bottom line, which will ring true to anyone who’s ever dealt with a corporate HR dept. That’s the brilliance of the scene. They’re planning on killing her but first they make her twist a bit. They invade her space mentally, then physically, then they’re forcing her gun to her temple and she’s crying out and we’re hoping for a savior. Hey! Here comes one. I mock now but it’s well-done. Aaron arrives and in lickety-split fashion takes out the agents. Then he burns down the house.
Now they’re on the lam together. He needs pills, she wants to live. They argue. He’s got some low-key working-class resentments, which I like. But Gilroy gives us way too much exposition here, which I don’t. Gilroy is the writer-director who can’t kill his little darlings. He needs us to hear them. So we get talk about “viral-reception mapping” and the like. We also get a bit of a lie—the idea that Marta has to stick with Aaron rather than go public with her story. “Could you ever sing it loud enough or fast enough to make sure they won’t kill you?” he asks. Me in the audience: Yes. Let’s face it: Marta, at this point, is not just anyone. She’s national news, the survivor of the lab shootings, and her house has just been burned to the ground. That alone should twitch any reporter’s antennae. If I were her I would walk in the front door of the Washington Post or Baltimore Sun or CNN. No, I would email Andrew Sullivan or upload a video onto YouTube. I would tweet or status update: U.S. government trying to kill me. Jennifer S.: “Doing your taxes? LOL.” Come on, Hollywood. It’s 2012. Get with it. Turn on, plug in, upload.
Instead we head to the Philippines. There are no more blue pills, apparently, but in the lab there, with the original virus, she can “viral off” Aaron’s need for blues and make the effect permanent. It’ll take nearly a day to get there, sure, but they have a headstart because the DGBs think both of them are dead.
Until they don’t. The DGBs figure it all out by combing through every surveillance cam in the Maryland/D.C. area, spotting her, and, eventually, in passenger manifests, they find... oh my god! Cross! Immediately they know where they are and why, and contact both the med-lab plant in Manila and a Bangkok assassin to fly there and take him out. Government agencies are never so frighteningly efficient as in Hollywood movies.
By this point she’s already viraled him off (cough); but there’s a fever, and by the time it subsides the assassin, LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), is blocks away, sniffing, even as the Manila police, alerted by the U.S. government, close in. We get rooftop chases and footraces and zipping motorcycles through Manila traffic. I’m not much of a fan of the car chase but this one’s done well. The surprise? It’s the end. LARX buys it, they are bruised and shot, but they chart a boat for open waters. There, safe, Marta suddenly acts flirtatious. “Are we lost?” she asks. “No,” I was looking at our options,” Aaron says, suddenly serious with maps. “I was kinda hoping we were lost,” she responds with a smile. Camera pullback. Gorgeous scenery. The end.
It’s a shock because nothing’s been resolved. OK, one thing: Cross won’t revert back. But that’s it. It’s open-ended.
The Bourne weight
I should say, again, that I like Renner. He’s got verve, and snap, and a human face; I wouldn’t mind seeing him in some Jimmy Cagney roles. There’s a good supporting cast, too: Isaac in the Alaskan cabin, Marvel as the agent/HR director, Corey Stoll (last seen as Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris”) on Byer’s team. I like what Shane Jacobons, pungently Aussie, did with his throwaway role as the lab foreman in the Philippines.
But there’s too much weight from the previous trilogy, and Gilroy, as good as he is, loves his expository darlings too much. And where do we go from here? Will the next movie involve more amoral, relentless pursuit, a la Javert, or will Cross turn and attack his creators, a la Frankenstein, or will we get both? And would any of this be new?
Here’s a way to make it new. The movie’s tagline is “There was never just one,” and that’s true at the end. Jason Bourne still lives. Time to team up. Either that or have Cross email Andrew Sullivan. Get the fucking story out already. See if anyone gives a shit.
That’s what I’m waiting for, actually. These types of movies hinge on the notion that immoral government acts must be hidden, swept away, before the press, and thus the American public, find out. But what if a scandal broke and nobody cared? Is it still a scandal? That’s the cinematic moment I want: When the Byers of the world realize the carte blanche given them by the American public’s boundless ability for distraction and apathy.