This semi-reboot of the Bourne trilogy with Matt Damon is a kind of “Whew, that was intense, wasn’t it!” reaction to the earlier series. The Bourne Legacy is simpler, easier, less layered and subtle, and heads in different directions.
Our central figure, still an action hero of sorts, isn’t plagued by the “Who am I and who are these people out to get me and why?” struggles that Jason Bourne was challenged with. We have a cleaner issue here having to do more with the simple survival of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a Bourne-like human experiment that (spoiler alert) must be put down. So the series is apparently shaking off the subtleties and ontological questions that made the earlier films so much more than well-done action films. The series couldn’t have gotten much more intense—between its explorations of identity and its ever-tightening editing rhythms—without inflicting some physiological and physiological damage on the audience.
The simpler line makes this film less interesting, less profound, and less exciting. But standing on its own, without comparisons, it’s a well-acted action film with only a slightly unbelievable story line and some decent action sequences.
This is apparently a family affair for the director, and that may account for its strengths and weaknesses. Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter or co-writer of the earlier trilogy, takes over Bourne directing duties for the first time. His earlier two films were Duplicity and Michael Clayton, both quieter, intelligent and dialogue-heavy films. This is anything but quiet, but the dialogue is smarter than most films known for their action. Co-writer is younger brother Dan Gilroy, and editing the film is Dan’s twin brother John Gilroy, who edited Michael Clayton and the more recent Warrior. The editing in the talking parts is a bit slow and boderline-ponderous, and the action sequences carry none of the emotional weight of the earlier films—Jason was always fighting for more than one thing at a time—and they just seem faster rather than an intensification of the conflicts in the slower portions.
Casting Renner in the lead contributes to and perhaps reflects the shift in emphasis. Renner is about as intense an actor as the American screen has at the moment. He’s a good actor (Oscar nominations for The Hurt Locker and The Town), but a different animal from the always-underrated Matt Damon, who brought such a high level of physicality and internal conflict to his character. Renner can show the inner life of his characters, but he isn’t much called on to do that here. When he does, it’s buried much deeper under the surface than Damon did, and he’s therefore a harder character to relate to. Few can match Damon for likeability, and Renner normally doesn’t even try as an actor. It takes longer to come up alongside him, but we eventually get there as more is revealed of the backstory. But it will never be as deep a connection with the audience as they had with Damon/Jason.
Opposite him is a fascinating casting choice. Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) dials down her normal luminosity (hard to do) and cranks up the intelligence and inner action star of her character. This could have been a casting mistake of the first order, as she can be cast in anything for her looks. But Weisz’s intelligence makes her character believable, and she is a gifted enough actress to pull off the scenes of confusion and conflict with ease, which brings some needed believability and weight to the surroundings. Her action scenes actually add depth to the film, as she is clearly not transformed into a Lara Croft figure, and her running around has some tension and meaning that goes deeper than Cross’s. (We can also be grateful that the producers didn’t foist one of the young pretty faces on us and tried to make us believe that a pair of glasses and a tight face make one a doctor. A real actress—not all that young—with real intelligence—thank you.)
The required romantic element is given short shrift here, and is abruptly presented at the end. That opens the door to the sequel/s, of course, but it seems both tacked on and too late. But a romance with these characters, played by these actors, written by the writer/director of Duplicity—there are some strong possibilities here for the future. So the Bourne series has been reinvented something along the lines of Spider-Man—simpler, with a straighter line, fewer nuances, and greater possibilities of romance. Do we see a trend here?