Review by Paul Stathakis | August 17, 2012

An action star is Bourne

Some are going to walk into “The Bourne Legacy” not knowing much about the lead actor. Most won’t even know his name. There are, of course, those will recognize him as “the guy” who diffused bombs in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” or as the actor who played one of Tom Cruise’s sidekicks in last year’s “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.” But one thing is certain: by the end of this film, many will leave the theatre knowing who Jeremy Renner is because this picture represents his induction into the universe of action films. “The Bourne Legacy” is not the best action film you’ll see this year. It does very little to stand out from any other spy pictures that have preceded it and it’s rarely thrilling. But if it is at all watchable it’s mainly because of, yes you guessed it, that new action star in it.

There may be some confusion here for those who think that Renner is portraying the Bourne character in lieu of Matt Damon. That is not the case. Renner stars as Aaron Cross, an agent from the same program as Jason Bourne. Damon’s “Bourne” films were mainly centered on the protagonist’s search for his own identity while eluding hordes of other agents and assassins who were constantly on his tail trying to wipe him out. Cross finds himself in a similar circumstance but he is not after his identity. Instead, Cross is on a mission to reach a top-secret facility (a laboratory to be more specific) where he can get his hands on a supply of special blue pills. To do this he enlists the help of a doctor by the name of Marta Shearing, played gracefully by Rachel Weisz who is every bit as good and convincing as Renner.

Renner and Weisz spend the entire film on the run from the CIA and that’s about as exciting as things get. The action here involves watching the main characters dodge bullets, fight, and find ways out of intricate and not so intricate situations. Cross is good at what he does. He’s an expert in the same way that Jason Bourne was. They do a lot of the things most people on the run would do: they prepare fake IDs and passports and when necessary they call on their coolness and fast-thinking ways to get around obstacles. Watch for the scene where Cross and Shearing arrive in the Philippines at a factory. They are stopped and interrogated by a guard who is hesitant to let them through.

The film was directed by Tony Gilroy, the same director responsible for the 2007 thriller “Michael Clayton.” Gilroy also co-wrote the screenplay of “The Bourne Legacy” as well as the previous Bourne movies. Gilroy is a director who is very much interested in the little qualities and traits of his characters. His characters feel real, act real, and operate within the confines of a real world though “The Bourne Legacy” does still incorporate implausible elements. The opening minutes are terrific. We are introduced to Cross who is living in Alaska, surrounded by vast snowy mountains. He hikes his way through the snowy landscape, dives into a cold lake, meets a stranger who we learn very little about, and he does his best to avoid a pack of wolves who are after him. Soon after come the missiles zipping by the protagonist’s head to get the action started.

”The Bourne Legacy” is not a particularly bad movie but it’s not a great one either. The writers based this film on author Robert Ludlum’s “Bourne universe” but there’s little mention of Bourne (he does make a photo cameo at one point). Aside from that, the only other connection to the Damon films are actors David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Albert Finney who reprise their roles as CIA operatives.

This is an action film that takes itself too seriously. Despite their best attempts to stretch a storyline which requires little to no stretching, the writers ultimately turn in a bore of a screenplay. Agent Cross squares off against the police, leaps from one rooftop to the another seamlessly, and abuses the heck out of a motorcycle while being pursued by an assassin. All this is fine because Renner has the look, qualities, and physique to handle this kind of role and achieve these kind of stunts. I don’t have an issue with the action. I don’t even mind if the filmmakers push the boundaries of reality here and there. Action films have always been about the protagonists doing impossible things and emerging unscathed. But how about having an action star perform these whacky high-flying manoeuvres in a movie that matters? Filling some big shoes here, Renner at the very least deserves that much.


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