Monday, March 4, 2013

The Bourne Legacy

Watching the seeming superhuman strength of the Jason Bourne character famously played by Matt Damon in the BOURNE trilogy some years back, I remember wondering if the character wasn't juicing. It's one thing to have tactical skills, but quite another to survive the parade of destruction to which he's subjected. The rounds of brutal fisticuffs would seem to have a cumulative effect of brain damage as well. In THE BOURNE LEGACY, the 4th film in the series inspired by Robert Ludlum's bestsellers, we learn that a group of superagents have in fact been taking meds to amp up their physical and intellectual acumen.

Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is first seen managing his way through the Alaskan wilderness, scaling impossible cliffs and staying ahead of a pack of wolves. He stops to take a blue pill and a green pill every so often. Unfortunately, he loses the greens after frostbite compromises his grip. After meeting an outpost contact who is killed by a drone that was ostensibly for supplies, Cross realizes his own bosses intended for him to perish as well.

Cut to those inner sanctums so omnipresent in the BOURNE world. Rooms filled with subordinates glued to monitors and tracing the steps of pretty much any pedestrian in the world via satellite cameras and surgically implanted tracking devices. Stalking around and uttering forbodences is CIA overseer Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who has learned that his covert program Operation Outcome has been compromised beyond repair and decides to shut it down. Meaning, of course, elimination of field operatives, including Cross.

The research lab where Cross and his fellow agents checked in for blood work and chem replenishment is also shut down, quite violently as one of the scientists, without warning, one day unloads magazines into his colleagues. A seeming man gone mad but actually the Agency's brainwashing of the poor guy to clean up a loose end. But a Dr. Marta Schearing (Rachel Weisz) survives the murder spree.

Cross will arrive at just the right moment to save the lovely doctor's life, setting off a chase that leads to all the way to Manilla, where the vital medications are manufactured. THE BOURNE LEGACY, like its predecessors, jumps between the home office as they track our heroes, and the latter, who race to stay a hair's length ahead.  Meanwhile, there are discussions of a pending FBI and Senate investigation into the activities of Agency members Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, who contributes a cameo) and others who engineered earlier operations, including those of which Jason Bourne was an unknowing part (Damon's picture is featured throughout this story). This so-called intrigue is just mundane, and just adds minutes to an already long movie.

The scenes in the "deep cover" Manhattan CIA offices are sometimes laughable in their plethora of spyspeak. This is hardly Norton's finest hour, and his character's standard issue speechifying quickly becomes irritating. However, Renner is more than up to the challenge of his physically demanding part. He is quite likeable and believably rugged. Tough order to fill Damon's shoes, but Renner acquits himself quite well with this very different sort of agent. Weisz is also very appealing as a scientist who learns the hard way of the Agency's darkest secrets. She has one great scene as she deals with 2 supposedly "on her side" operatives who prove quite otherwise.  Before the fists and hardware come out, she gets to convey some strong emotion that, often in other action films, comes off as overheated. Weisz modulates her emotions skillfully through the entire picture, though in the later scenes she becomes merely a tag-along in need of rescuing.

That leads to the final 20 minutes or so, when the action ramps up to hypertensive levels. If you've seen the BOURNE films, you'll recognize the frantic pace, the impossible scrapes. The big chase is undeniably exciting. But the introduction of a near-superhuman character as the aggressor just before sends this movie off the rails. Still fun, but awfully silly.  

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