15 August 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY (Dir. Tony Gilroy, 2012, US) - Criss Cross

Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross
Sometimes, well most of the times these days, I end up being very cynical about Hollywood franchises. When I heard that Universal were adamant to keep the Bourne franchise alive with a film without both Damon and Greengrass part of me couldn't help lambaste Hollywood for its seemingly endless lack of originality. I was very sceptical about The Bourne Legacy, a film written and directed by Tony Gilroy and starring Jeremy Renner in the lead role of CIA operative Aaron Cross. The Bourne films have been important for the reputation of another global franchise - James Bond. What the Bourne films did for the espionage genre was the injection of a much needed realism in terms of both style and ideology. The representation of politics in a post cold war era in terms of the spy film meant a level of self parody but the Bourne films were some of the first post millennial films to offer a more gritty and credible look at the changing face of geopolitical espionage. The Bourne Identity, the first in the series, is an effective and surprisingly elegant spy thriller which established Jason Bourne as a new age realistic anti hero. The follow up, The Bourne Supremacy, is arguably the finest of the bunch and saw the directorial involvement of Paul Greengrass who brought a greater degree of realism to the action sequences. Given the critical and commercial success of Supremacy, Universal seemed to hand over the franchise to Damon and Greengrass who would go on to collaborate on the disastrous Green Zone project. James Bond responded with a reinvention of its formula, adopting much of the new (old) realism pioneered by the Bourne films and offering us a new three dimensional Bond in the shape of hard case Daniel Craig. The third and supposed final film in the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum, was universally well received and with some critics declaring it the best. Ultimatum seems the weakest and this is largely because the film is overly derivative of Supremacy and offers in my opinion an unsatisfactory conclusion since the final revelation is predictable. Nevertheless, Ultimatum is still a superior spy thriller. 

So what of The Bourne Legacy? The narrative is set within the same time frame of Jason Bourne's excursion to New York in which he infiltrates the CIA. The focus this time is on Aaron Cross, another CIA operative who ends up being betrayed in order to minimise the political fallout from the Jason Bourne scandal. Cross is the latest covert CIA operation; a lab experiment enhancing both his strength and intelligence. The plot is somewhat of a regurgitation of the Bourne films and offers few surprises in the way Cross attempts to regain his identity. What makes Legacy such a worthy follow up is the way Gilroy chooses to maintain political intrigue with a genuinely exciting handling of the action set pieces. Strangely enough, Legacy felt more like a traditional thriller than the other Bourne films and although this may seem like one of the conventional aspects of the film, it gives the narrative a tautness. One of the best and politically prescient sequences takes place near the beginning. A remote controlled drone is used to carry out a strike against two of the CIA operatives; one of them is killed while Cross manages to escape. It might be the first ever death by drone representation in a Hollywood film. With so many deaths on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border over the years, the use of drone technology to commit atrocities underlines an ugly detachment from the crime and the cowardly ability to never see the people, just a target. Even more chilling is the notion that by removing the human element from target assassinations, the crime becomes altogether more unreal, thus eliminating any contemplations of guilt. The thriller and action genre derive from the chase film or narrative which emerged in the early days of film and Legacy at its most simplistic is an extended geopolitical chase film with an ending non to similar to the previous Bourne films. Both Renner and Weisz are well cast and offer solid performances but their pairing lacks a certain chemistry which was present between Damon and Potente in the first film. Edward Norton shows up as a scheming CIA suit with plenty of hackneyed political dialogue that we have heard so many times before. Legacy is a well crafted spy/action thriller but for me it lacks the sustained ideological engagement to put it in the category of Gilroy's debut Michael Clayton. 

1 comment:

  1. Your opening words echo my exact thoughts and why I was also skeptical about this film and have stayed away from it. I loved the trilogy and wish things had been left at that. Also, the tagline "there was never just one" bothers me. These words leave the door open for another decade of reboots/remakes :)