The Bourne Legacy had a lot to work with. There was the built in fanbase earned from the first three Bourne movies. There was the built in fanbase from the Bourne books from which the movies were adapted. There was the built in fanbase of people who were hoping to spend Saturday night watching an action hero punch people and who had discerned from the trailer that Legacy would deliver.
The creators of The Bourne Legacy seemed to have been very aware of who was coming to the party and what they were bringing, so they made a conscious decision to not dabble in anything that might frighten or startle their guests. Instead, they heaped piles of frozen chicken breast and mashed potatoes onto the kitchen table, mumbled incoherently and then shuffled off to the parlor to quietly masturbate while one of Wilhem Richard Wagner’s operas played on repeat.
Before I continue, I should disclose some personal information. Before Legacy, the only Bourne movie that I had seen was The Bourne Identity, the first film in the series. My Worst Friend Sriram did his best to explain the story so far, (he had read all of the books and seen all of the movies while not making eye contact with a single woman ever), and I developed a general idea of what had already happened. I’m still no expert on Bourne-lore, but I did manage to turn up some interesting tidbits about the origins of the series.
The original Bourne stories were a series of three novels by Robert Ludlum. The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The Bourne Identity was made into a T.V. movie starring Richard Chamberlain in 1988, and a feature film starring Matt Damon in 2002. Ludlum passed away in 2001 and the terrifically evilly named Eric Van Lustbader picked up the series’ mantle where his predecessor left off. He has authored seven books so far. The Bourne Legacy is supposedly based on the first Lustbader novel, but Lustbader’s version of Legacy is about Bourne, now a Georgetown University Professor of Linguistics, being forced out of retirement by a sniper’s bullet. The movie that I saw last night was about a new character, super soldier Aaron Cross, and his struggle to survive the fallout from the shitshow presided over by Jason Bourne in Ultimatum. I think it’s safe to say both that they deviated from the text and that a better title might have been The Bourne Simultaneity.
So, we meet Cross… With Matt Damon refusing to return to the series without Paul Greengrass, director of the Supremacy and Ultimatum, we’re forced to settle for Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross. That actually sounds harsher than I mean it-despite the fact that I usually refer to Renner as “the Hurt Locker Guy,” he’s perfectly capable, having earned a best supporting actor nomination for The Town. Still, I can’t help but notice that Renner seems to only read scripts from people who want to cast him as a damaged military specialist, from Avengers to Hurt Locker to Mission Impossible Four. At this point, Renner as Cross feels almost like stunt casting. But whatever. Renner pulls his weight, and makes his character as likable as possible, though there’s no force in heaven or on earth that could make him interesting. So, we meet Cross… And then it’s really just a path-of-least-resistance thriller that occasionally aspires to pull in the crowd that saw Expendables 2 last weekend with motorcycle mounted kung-fu.
It’s frustrating. Legacy’s plot frequently hints at interesting elements that never get fleshed out, some of the action setpieces are really well imagined and have great, consistent senses of geography, and the political intrigue is exciting if hard to follow. But none of it seems to converge or develop into anything. The DNA of a great movie is here, but it’s jumbled and corrupted. Maybe it was rewrites or studio interference, but the most likely ailment is a simple unwillingness to tamper with the Bourne formula. As a result, Legacy comes off as muddled and passionless, still too heartbroken from the loss of Matt Damon to do anything bold.
More of my thoughts on the Bourne Legacy will be available for download as soon as I master Audacity and release the new episode of My Worst Friend Sriram, a podcast for the “liberal arts students living in their parents suburban basement” generation. Or, to put it briefly, a podcast. Stay tuned.