Sunday, September 2, 2012

Then It Fell Apart: Bored of The Bourne Legacy.

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

Director: Tony Gilroy

Reviewed: 2 September 2012

jamesintexas rating--*1/2

"Extreme ways are back again / Extreme places I didn't know / I broke everything new again / Everything that I'd owned" (Moby, "Extreme Ways" from the album 18, the unofficial theme song of the Jason Bourne films.)

Broken is the appropriate image to leave the theater with after enduring this quasi-sequel, messy spin-off of the very successful Jason Bourne trilogy.  I'm still angry after seeing this movie over six days ago.  Angry.  Not at Jeremy Renner or Rachel Weisz who do credible jobs with their underwritten characters as super-assassin and PhD chemist, respectively.  Not at cinematographer Robert Elswit who films pristine snow white scenes alongside blindingly white research labs, infusing this action film with atypical grace.  Not at Moby who wrote such a terrific coda song "Extreme Ways" to cap the ending of each Bourne film (it's on my workout mix).  Not the terrific sense of place in this film: Alaska survival camp, a pill factory in the Phillipines, a terrifying sequence in a laboratory.  I guess I'm just angry at the unrealized potential here, the squandered possibilities, the choppiness and, at times, laziness, of Tony Gilroy, the director of the great Michael Clayton, trying to show us the story behind the stories told in three previous films about amnesiac-laden assassin Jason Bourne.  However, it ends up looking like an amalgamation of out takes and afterthoughts from three previous films, bonus footage or unused scenes being rushed together, like a sixth grade science project with pages of printed out Internet research just stapled to the trifold display board.

It just does not work.

To paraphrase Yoda, "There is another [Bourne]!" and this film picks up on the assumption that the programs with vaguely menacing names run by the intelligence czars in D.C. are using blue and red colored pills and extreme training to build and monitor super spies capable of withstanding extreme amounts of pain, quickening reaction time, and becoming perfect weapons.  When the fallout from Jason Bourne's exploits in the previous films begins to damage the cache of the intelligence community, retired Admiral Turso (Stacy Keach) and retired Colonel Byer (Edward Norton) implement protocols with far-reaching effects for spy in training Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) who is doing his best Liam Neeson in The Grey impression by fighting wolves off with torches in Alaska and Doctor Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a chemist at the forefront of exciting developments in human capability who talks vaguely about "advancing science" as justification for her involvement with genetic engineering.  A chase film, the heroes outwit and outmaneuver their enemies, making their way to Manilla to a pill factory, I think.

I cannot remember a time when a movie worked so hard to actively remind me of its far superior predecessors.  Every shot of Matt Damon's stock face on his Jason Bourne passport reminded me of how much I would rather be watching any of those three films: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum.  Any time there was a cutaway to Pam Landy (the wonderful Joan Allen) I wished that she were really featured in this film instead of basically a cameo that may have just been recycled footage from a previous film.  As much fun as it is to see Edward Norton and Stacy Keach go all bleary-eyed and intense as CIA/NSA Cheney-esque puppet masters, playing God in conference rooms, poring over data about super secret spy programs, they drop out of the film and cannot equal Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Chris Cooper from the first film, Julia Stiles...  It is fun to see Edward Norton again.  Why has it been so long since he's done good work?  Unfortunately, his role does not build towards anything in this film.

Gilroy and Elswit construct several intense action sequences, and early scenes in Alaska are brutal with the weather and wolves.  A terrifying highlight is a ten-minute nightmarish set piece inside of a lab involving a violent act, and the tight confines, the unforeseen parallels to recent shootings inside of a Colorado movie theater, and the sense of slowly unfolding horror.  The film never again reaches the intensity of that sequence, and other scenes pale behind other Bourne action sequences (I mean really, why put someone on a bike after seeing Matt Damon dart through and over the streets and roofs of Tangiers?).  And Damon's films handle the quiet, devastating moments of Bourne's realizations better; a denouement of the second film involves a quiet, guilt-ridden, emotionally powerful conversation between spy and unintended victim of his violence.

With The Bourne Legacy, I haven't been as surprised at an ending to a film in years.  Not surprised in an "I didn't see that coming! Wow!" kind of way.  But, every instinct that I have as a moviegoer told me that The Bourne Legacy was building towards something more giant in the showdown, something more profound, something more intense.  Maybe a villain introduced in Act 3 doesn't carry enough screen time.  A fight scene on motorbikes, admirably filmed and sufficiently dangerous yet curiously inert and uninvolving for me, culminates in the Moby music playing as the credits roll and my general confusion.  The movie is over?  Where does this leave us?  Where do we go from here?

And if the answer to that question is a super hybrid action film which combines Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner, I'm all in as long as Paul Greengrass returns at the helm as director or the script finds some sort of logic amidst the chaos as well as recommits to using its deep supporting cast in real ways.  As an attentive audience member, I just shouldn't feel like Jason Bourne in a Bourne movie: Who is that guy?  Why are they fighting?  Where are they now?  Why is it over?  Where are they going?  What happened to Edward Norton?

Moby's song "Extreme Ways" culminates in these lines: "I would stand in line for this / It's always good in life for this / Oh baby, oh baby / Then it fell apart, it fell apart...Like it always does."  I guess I did stand in line for this, but the concept of The Bourne Legacy, for me, fell apart completely.

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