12 August 2012

Bourne Again

Surprisingly, given my penchant for action/spy/political/conspiracy thrillers and my liking for Matt Damon, my history with the Bourne films is far from complete. I saw The Bourne Identity once on DVD but I was also surfing the intertubes at the same time and didn't pay enough attention. I think I actually saw Bourne #3, The Bourne Ultimatum, first and I've since watched parts of it on several other occasions. I've never seen the second film, The Bourne SupremacyI intended to watch Bourne #2 before seeing a preview of the latest film, The Bourne Legacy, this morning but I didn't get round to it. I did read Vulture's five things to remember about the other movies post, though, which helped a little.

I was slightly concerned about the lack of Matt Damon, but from his CV, Jeremy Renner looks like he's been gearing up to this role. He was good in The Hurt Locker and further cut his chops helping out Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Plus I like Rachel Weisz and although she did also appear in The Mummy and her latest film, 360, hasn't been popular with the critics, she generally has quite good taste in movies. There may be some spoilers below, especially for the first three films, but I would suggest that a sequential viewing of the films makes for more interesting and less confusing viewing. 

Anyway, on to The Bourne Legacy. It isn't really a sequel to Ultimatum; the events unfold at about the same time, so we see poor old Paddy Considine getting shot in Waterloo station again. Old events and conversations are given a new twist in the new film. I like this as a narrative device: watching a scene or a conversation for a second time, with a whole new meaning or interpretation based on new information. For much of the opening third of the film, we see Aaron Cross (Renner), hiking across some seriously snowy mountains in Alaska, fighting off wolves and taking his green and blue pills, which allow him to retain his amazing physical and mental abilities, respectively. These scenes are interspersed with shots of various CIA dudes arguing with some guy from a national research association (Edward Norton) about the government black ops programmes that allowed the genetic modification of ordinary guys into hyper-strong, hyper-intelligent killing machines. Such as Bourne. And Cross, of course.

The problems with Jason Bourne (see Bournes #1 to #3) have prompted Norton's character Byer to close down all of these programmes ASAP and get rid of the agents. Most of the agents grudgingly agree to switch over to a new kind of pill, which, of course, promptly kills them off. Cross, however, proves harder to wipe out and manages to elude assassination-by-exploding-drone on several occasions. Meanwhile, the labs responsible for creating the pills that keep the agents super-human and those that developed the technique that allowed certain agents (including Cross) to keep their skills permanently, even without pills, need shutting down too. Even the nice lady scientist Marta (Weisz) who carried out Cross's regular check-ups and who gave Cross perma-strength, although not perma-intelligence. (This is a shame because Cross's pre-programme alter ego had a very low IQ.)

This somewhat complex and lengthy set-up complete, the rest of movie proceeds as a fairly standard chase film, as Cross and Marta dash across the country and oversees to Manila, which is where the rooftop chase scene pictured in the trailer takes place. Meanwhile, Byer et al sit and mutter, "Curses! Foiled again!" and some unexplained parts of the first three films are somewhat elucidated--for those people who put more effort into watching the earlier films than me, at least.

I came out of the film thinking it was an exciting, entertaining action thriller with likable protagonists and an engaging enough plot. This is still true but the more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became. Legacy seemed a little shallow, really, and I didn't think it really added much to the series, informationally or philosophically. Incidentally, according to IMDb, before he knew there would be a fourth film, Paul Greengrass, who directed Bournes #2 and #3, joked that #4 should be called The Bourne Redundancy. Again, maybe those who have seen all three films and remember them well will disagree with me, but Legacy felt like an excuse to shoot some big guns, play with some expensive technology, make up a bit of science (genetics, epigenetics and virology, mainly) and put together a fun action romp. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that; as I said, I enjoyed the film and was gripped throughout its 2h15 length. Maybe films like Inception have just trained me to want--and expect--more from my action thrillers.

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