The Bourne Legacy: Good, but not great
MANILA, Philippines - The last time we saw Jason Bourne, he was swimming underwater in New York’s East River, surviving yet another execution attempt.
This exact image is mirrored in the opening scenes of the 4th film in the franchise.
But we already know that Matt Damon chose not to reprise his role as Jason Bourne.
The Bourne Legacy, therefore, extends and expands the Bourne universe with at least one very critical difference: Jason Bourne himself isn’t in it.
People may ask how a film without the namesake protagonist can make sense. The answer is in the film’s tagline: “There was never just one.”
Damon may have chosen to sit out this latest installment, but producers are hoping that the franchise can carry on without him.
They enlisted the services of another acclaimed actor, Jeremy Renner, and threw in Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton for good measure.
What made the first 3 movies so great was that they were action films with brains. They weren’t the old cut-‘em-and-slice-‘em movies of yore that starred big, brawny musclemen with AK-47 rifles in a mad rampage through some godforsaken jungle or old abandoned warehouse, killing everyone in their path.
Jason Bourne represented a new kind of action hero, one that Damon embodied perfectly. He wasn’t some lumbering dolt with the acting range of a paper napkin — he helped humanize Bourne but still kicked some serious ass.
The trilogy grossed a combined total of almost US$950-M worldwide, proof that there’s a sizeable audience for smart action films.
Which brings us to The Bourne Legacy.
On its own, the movie is smart, slick and fast-paced.
The fact that a significant chunk of it is set and was filmed in Manila should get many Filipinos interested enough to shell out money for a ticket or three.
But while the principal narrative architect of the series — writer Tony Gilroy (who also directs the film this time around) — is still involved, The Bourne Legacy falls short when stacked up against the original trilogy.
First, the movie is burdened with having to set-up the plot by constantly referring to the events of the first 3 films.
Audiences may choose to go watch The Bourne Legacy blindly without first having seen the 3 that came before it, but they do so at their own peril.
Within the first 30 minutes, terms like “Treadstone,” Blackbriar” and names and characters like Conklin, Abbott and Dr. Hirsh pop up, and anyone unfamiliar with the Bourne canon is immediately lost.
Plot exposition via extended dialogue happens in between the action sequences, which I think drags the film down.
In the original films, we were squarely behind Damon’s portrayal of Bourne because we understood his predicament of having amnesia and his attempts at figuring out who he really is, all the while fending off assassins and government conspirators.
In The Bourne Legacy, we’re supposed to root for Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) but only because we already know that he’s the protagonist in this tale, not because we understand his issues or empathize with his situation.
This isn’t Renner’s fault — he’s a competent actor and a believable action hero (see: Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol and The Avengers) — but he’s given so little to work with in terms of motivation that we don’t really connect with him as much as we did with Damon during the first film, The Bourne Identity, and the other two that came after.
Still, this is an action film and the action sequences were pretty spectacular.
Pinoys are going to have a field day seeing our beloved Philippines in a big-budget Hollywood production, and it’s hard not to get caught up and smile (at the very least), when “Manila” is first uttered and when the first unmistakably Pinoy face shows up onscreen.
The climactic chase scene that makes up the last 40 minutes of the movie is a nail-biting, heart-stopping thrill ride that should be enough to shake off the jittery narrative faults of the first half of the movie.
I’m still hoping, though, that if we ever see a 5th Bourne film, we’d get more of the actual Bourne, and less of his legacy. - Rappler.com
Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine and is a live music geek. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @pauljohncana