'The Bourne Legacy' brings substance, lacks style

atomictown.comAugust 14, 2012 

One of these days, spy thrillers are going to run out of places to film in.

You see, every successful spy movie needs not just a major U.S. city to tear around in, but also a good two or three exotic locales to destroy. Boston, Belgium, and Bangkok, say. So long, fellas! Meanwhile, the next spy movie to come out can't just use those same locations. Not because they were actually blown up -- except that one time; once again, sorry about that, Atlantis -- but because it would be boring.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

You see where this is going, right? Eventually, action movies are just going to run right out of real locations to hold car chases in. They're going to have to start making stuff up! Before you know it, all our movies will be taking place in absurd places named things like "Middle Earth" or "Westeros" or "the Moon." You know what? I don't think people will buy it. So enjoy your globetrotting thrillers while you still can, folks. Even if, like with The Bourne Legacy, it feels like there's a little something missing.

With the fallout from the Jason Bourne scandal about to hit the fan, Edward Norton is put in charge of cleaning up the mess. He begins by wiping out every agent who's still in the program -- but operative Jeremy Renner eludes death.

He's run out of his program medicine, though. With the clock ticking, he heads to see doctor Rachel Weisz, who he believes will be able to get him his meds. But anyone who's worked on the program is no safer than Renner.

So the Bourne movies are now minus Matt Damon, and how weird is it that we're lamenting the loss of a guy who, prior to this franchise, seemed like yet another floppy-haired Hollywood prettyboy. Well, maybe you're not lamenting it. I bet you also read and have friends and don't envy the dead. Bully for you. For the rest of us, it's a sad day.

Yet there's still continuity to The Bourne Legacy. Tony Gilroy, who wrote or co-wrote every script in the series, is back as a writer again -- and as director. On the face of it, this is a horrible idea. Directors are in charge of hundreds of people while writers write because other people are terrifying and the only way to battle them is to blast them with a cloud of ink, squid-like, and flee into the murky depths.

On the writing side, Gilroy's script is as sharp as ever. He ties it into the past movies without missing a step, and while it has so much spy slang and techno-jargon it makes A Clockwork Orange look like Dick and Jane, it's never confusing. In many ways, the dialogue is more stylish than ever.

The same cannot be said about the action. It isn't that The Bourne Legacy's setpieces are bad, exactly. Two scenes in particularly are plenty tense, including one where Renner, armed with nothing but a rifle, has to face off with a pack of Alaskan wolves and also a flying missile-drone. That sounds stupid, but nope. Awesome. Thing is, Gilroy's following on the directorial heels of Paul Greengrass.

I know not everyone is in love with Greengrass' style. Some sad fools find the experience of repeated bouts of shaky-cam induced vomiting "unpleasant." Personally, I find Greengrass' cutting to be nothing short of sorcery -- burn him! -- whereas Gilroy's style is more workmanlike. A skilled workman, to be certain, but a workman is not a wizard. Which is really a shame, because then everyone would finish early every day.

On the whole, then, The Bourne Legacy is deeply competent without being outstanding. Was it necessary? Probably not. But if they want to milk this cow a little longer, they could have done far worse.

Grade: B

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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