What’s in a reboot? As franchises reach their third and often times final films, the future becomes a crapshoot. Some franchises, be it superhero films like Spider-Man, will simply call it good, and entirely reboot the franchise with new leads, and new storylines. And then there are others, the X-Men film franchise for example, that will spawn everything from prequels to spin-offs, hoping to make good on an already in stone mythology. Then there is Universal’s Bourne franchise.
Following a much talked about lead up to a possible fourth Bourne film starring then lead Matt Damon, Jeremy Renner then stole the lead role of Aaron Cross in the new The Bourne Legacy, only to find himself stuck inside of a universe where the elephant in the room is very much in existence, but his story takes place somewhere on the periphery. Quite an interesting idea conceptually; think of it as a spinoff set during what appears to be the final half of the last proper ‘Bourne’ film, playing as a sequel without truly being a sequel. Interesting idea however, does not a great film make.
Set, for all intents and purposes, as the entity known as Jason Bourne looms heavily in New York City, we find Aaron Cross, a man who we discover as yet another member of the same program that Bourne himself was born out of. When the government feels the heat starting to rise up under their collective rear ends, they decide to cut all ties to the project, ultimately concluding in them killing their currently out in the field agents, save for Cross, who is able to evade their attempt at taking his life. Hell bent on finding out how he can ‘virus himself off’ of the chemicals the government has him on, the film is able to touch on the existential fears that are at the heart of the thriller franchise, but without director Paul Greengrass (who is here replaced by Tony Gilroy) or star Damon, the film itself feels like a aging athlete, trying one last time to go all the way. Think of this as the cinematic version of Washington Wizard’s era Michael Jordan. Uninteresting to watch, but wholly able to make you wish for days, and all three films, past.
With the new directorial voice and a brand new acting face, The Bourne Legacy as this film has decided to be called, serves its titular purpose. At its very best, the film is able to narratively connect itself to this lively universe, without completely ruling out a return to the old narrative. Gilroy, who is best known for films like Duplicity and the absolutely brilliant Michael Clayton, is fine here as the director, but is completely unable to give us the great sense of political intrigue that makes, at least, his aforementioned George Clooney vehicle and unsung masterpiece. With a romantic relationship at the center of the film comes obvious comparisons to Gilroy’s other fantastic film, but without the blazing chemistry that made Duplicity so damn watchable, stars Renner and Rachel Weisz are wholly unable to make any of their interchanges, or their relationship period, feel vital or existent at all.
Singularly, both are fine. Weisz is a welcome addition to this world, giving a great deal of class to an otherwise pot boiler narrative. Her aspect of the story is entirely the best aspect of the narrative, spurned out of the gate by what is one of the most intense, troubling and truly haunting sequences you’ll see all year. This writer really hates to bring up the tragedy in Colorado once again, but with a narrative launched by a truly stone faced shooting, it’s a brutal sequence that tonally feels out of place, but an entirely welcome change of pace, giving us the sense of brood and dread that was so well imbued within the aesthetic of Greengrass and Damon’s masterpieces.
Visually, the film is a lot easier to swallow. Gilroy’s camera is far less jumpy and ‘documentary style’ than Greengrass’ camera and work on the franchise, but his fight choreography feels a lot less realistic and visceral than the latter’s work. Comparisons are not often the greatest form of criticism admittedly, but here, where the aesthetic and tone shift so violently, they are nothing if not apt. Feeling far more plaintive, very much in the vein of Gilroy’s previous works, the film has a second act that lags to a near hault, failing to be as thrilling or as energetic as the previous entries in this ever thriving franchise.
Overall, while the film itself is tonally all over the place, The Bourne Legacy is truly a mess not due to its tone, but due to its aesthetic. Visually dull, ranging from poor camera work to mundane cinematography, the film fails as a thriller, as an action film, and particularly as a interpersonal drama between a man and a woman dealing with the repercussions of inherently existential trauma. Mediocre on nearly every possible level, the film seems to be simply fine with settling for nothing more. A deathblow to a franchise this is not, it may be a hint however, that the vitals are slowly dropping.