Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
If anyone is qualified to take over the Jason Bourne franchise, it’s Tony Gilroy. Writer of all three previous films and a skilled director in his own right (Michael Clayton; Duplicity), he seems an ideal choice to carry on Robert Ludlum’s beloved world of espionage. Never mind that series star Matt Damon is a no-show. With Gilroy again penning the script and the likes of Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, and Rachel Weisz on board, The Bourne Legacy appears destined for success.
So why does the final product feel slightly off?
Running parallel to the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, the saga’s fourth installment traces the fallout of Bourne’s pursuit of Treadstone and Blackbriar, which threatens to compromise the intelligence community at large. Rather than risk exposure, Eric Byer (Norton) orders a complete destruction of Operation Outcome, the next generation version of Treadstone assassins. In the resulting full-scale global erasure, agent Aaron Cross (Renner) escapes, as does Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz), who worked at the Virginia lab where the Outcome assets were monitored and enhanced. Low on the medicine that keeps his genetically-altered body running, Cross enlists Shearing’s help while Byer and his men do all they can to wipe them out.
On the heels of quality turns in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, Renner solidifies his status as a charismatic action star. As his former recruiter turned nemesis, Norton is likewise strong and continues the Bourne films’ expert casting of performers who play icy exceedingly well. Furthering the series’ specific brand of thrills are multiple breathless set pieces, including a farmhouse shootout and a Manila chase sequence over rooftops and on motorbikes that threatens to outdo the series’ past spectacular highs. These familiar elements are a blessing and represent the franchise at its best, but therein lies the problem: it’s all a bit too familiar.
Helming an action blockbuster for the first time, Gilroy presents a work so rooted in the series’ successes that it barely feels like his own. In addition to its carried-over tone and similar spy-on-the-run story, the film sports just enough zoom-ins and quick cuts to recall Paul Greengrass’ direction on the previous two installments. New blood typically signals a new style, though here it’s mostly one giant homage to a director who was wise enough to step away from Bourne with a flawless record.
Gilroy doesn’t slice and dice with nearly the intensity of Greengrass’ hyper-documentary approach, however, and the resulting longer takes frequently wield the expert banter of Michael Clayton. Such moments rarely seeped into his past Bourne scripts and are welcome additions. More authorial stamps may have allowed The Bourne Legacy to stand apart, but Gilroy proceeds with hermetic restraint, unwilling to take personal risks. Regardless of his unique position, perhaps inheriting a franchise coming off such exceptional peaks proved too enticing to significantly alter. Honoring a legacy is one thing, but playing it safe only does this overly series-faithful film so many favors.
Still, reheated Greengrass leftovers are better than 99% of action films out there, and The Bourne Legacy is too well-crafted and engaging to fail. More daring directors will be needed to keep the inevitable next installments fresh, but Gilroy’s words are welcome to guide the way.
Rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences.
The Bourne Legacy is now playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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