Bourne again: a new identity

20 August 2012

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Four years after extraordinary action thriller The Bourne Ultimatum, a new hero has emerged and the films format altered.

Director’s Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman achieved considerable success with the original Bourne trilogy, starring accomplished actor Matt Damon as hardened assassin Jason Bourne. The trilogy centered on an amnesia stricken Bourne, on a quest to vanquish the C.I.A organization that brainwashed him into becoming a cold-blooded killer. 

Greengrass’ final film, The Bourne Ultimatum grossed a whopping $227,471,070 at the box office. It is perhaps for this reason that a sequel was conceptualized. Director Paul Greengrass withdrew from the franchise, causing lead actor Matt Damon to decline the offer of reprising his role. Screenplay writer Tony Gilroy soon took over as the films director and introduced a new hit man to replace Bourne.

The Bourne Legacy stars Academy award winner Jeremy Renner as black-ops assassin Aaron Cross. Set during the timeline of The Bourne Ultimatum, Cross is a member of covert black ops organisation, ‘Operation Outcome’. After an unseen Jason Bourne exposes assassin program ‘Operation Blackbriar’, the heads of Cross’ opposing program begin to fear their own indictment. At the top of this organisation is C.I.A agent Eric Byer, played by Fight Club star Edward Norton. Byer orders the execution of all trained assassins, including Cross, who is on a field mission in Alaska.

One of the reasons Legacy falls short is its fruitless attempt to involve rogue hit man Jason Bourne in the storyline, despite his distinct absence from the film. Viewers see traces of the invisible assassin, from passport photos to graffiti, yet the elusive character is nowhere be found. Viewers are led to believe that Bourne is part of a greater conspiracy as this contrived plotline runs throughout the film.

Pace is also lacking in this new instalment, with excessive story explanations slowing down the action. The first quarter of the film centres on Cross’ training mission in Alaska and the C.I.A’s attempts to assassinate him. During this time, audiences are subjected to gratuitous explanations of why the new operation is being shut down. ‘Jason Bourne was just the tip of the iceberg’, notes C.I.A operative Eric Byer as he details assassin program ‘Operation Outcome’ and its dubious purpose.

With only a handful of action scenes, Legacy lags well behind its predecessors. The original Bourne trilogy was jam-packed with fist-fights, gunplay and twists at almost every turn. There was never a dull moment as we immersed ourselves in the journey of Jason Bourne, on a mission to uncover his true identity.

Fortunately, there are still some scenes redolent of the original as Cross battles his way through C.I.A agents, military soldiers and even wolves endeavouring to break free from the organisation that transformed him into a lethal assassin.

The film also displays some favourable performances from Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz.

Renner proves he can carry a lead role, despite working with ordinary dialogue. Throughout the film audiences feel his despair as he struggles to break free from his murderous past.

Norton is mostly on the sidelines but still gives a chilling performance as a United States Air Force colonel working with the C.I.A. It’s unfortunate his character is underused since a majority of screen time is devoted to introducing Renner’s character.

The Mummy actress Rachel Weitz also gives a plausible performance as a scientist involved with Cross’ C.I.A agency who becomes embroiled in the debacle. The character is somewhat reminiscent of Jason Bourne’s love interest in the original, yet I’m sure audiences can see past this.

Not surprisingly, director Tony Gilroy hopes this slow burning sequel will be the first of many, hinting at the possibility of future instalments. Yet the question remains whether new protagonist Aaron Cross is appealing enough to warrant a sequel. Perhaps a Bourne/Cross follow up is in order?

With the absence of lead character Jason Bourne and a lacklustre storyline, The Bourne Legacy fails to live up to high expectations set by the previous trilogy. Fortunately, a strong supporting cast and a handful of decent action scenes make the film marginally watchable. Still, you have to wonder, why did director Tony Gilroy decide to carry on Bourne’s legacy?

2/5

Toli Papadopoulos is a third-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University and is one of upstart’s staff writers. You can follow him on Twitter: @paprant