Rotten Tomatoes now has “The Bourne Legacy” (2012) at critics: 55, audience: 58. This is very surprising, considering this is a rip-roaring actioner with crackling tension throughout, very well made, and highly entertaining. Normally, a film like this would rate at least in the mid-80s with audiences. The critic’s take is predictable. More on the low audience Rotten Tomatoes score later.
The wildly successful “Bourne” movies have certain common ingredients, starting with some form of identity crisis of the central character, a rogue CIA black ops agent (assassin) who’s “off the reservation” and usually has memory loss.
In addition, the franchise features exotic and riveting, realistic fight scenes utilizing the Israeli military’s Krav Maga and Filipino stick-fighting art of Escrima. They also include “buildering” (climbing buildings, as opposed to “bouldering,” climbing boulders), and parkour (the gymnastic ability to navigate and flow in and around structures without assisting equipment in the fastest and most efficient way possible). There are usually rooftop escapes from fellow CIA assassins, and lastly, idyllic tropical endings on boats.
“The Bourne Identity,” the first movie of the “Bourne” series, was so engrossing that it started a Hollywood-wide trend. Every action film since then has been heavily influenced by it. No less so the fourth installment in this hit franchise, “The Bourne Legacy.”
Although Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was no longer in the franchise at this point, “Legacy” was easily the best action-thriller of summer of 2012.
Unlike Jason Bourne, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker,” and Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is not an assassin of the CIA’s Treadstone program, but an Outcome operator, belonging to the Department of Defense. Outcome agents are utilized for even more dangerous, deep-cover assignments than Treadstone.
Both the Treadstone and Outcome programs share the highly unethical, top-secret genetic and chemical tampering by a pharmaceutical behemoth, but Outcome’s tampering produces a more lethal operator; sort of like the T2 Terminator. (Interestingly, the current TV series, “The Terminal List” also features a pharmaceutical behemoth called Capstone (instead of Treadstone), that likewise deals in surreptitious governmental/military genetic tampering with soldiers and agents.)
When Jason Bourne’s off-the-reservation status becomes public knowledge, the hidden existence of Outcome also becomes vulnerable. Someone under a rock somewhere, in the shadows, can’t have that.
The omniscient camera-eye turns over that rock, exposing one Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton). He’s the one originally responsible for building all these black-operations programs. Byer feels the sword of Damocles hanging over Outcome’s existence—the science is in danger of getting on CNN.
As the CIA fails to cover up Bourne, Byer makes the decision to raze Outcome to the ground, including everyone involved—agents, doctors, lab technicians, and all.
The CIA’s ‘Doh!’ Factor
Outcome agents, while having more cutting-edge abilities than their Treadstone predecessors, are also harder to control. Having one of these human pit bulls become disgruntled and manage to escape its kennel (another “Bourne” ingredient) means the CIA is immediately at risk of getting severely bitten in the proverbial backside.
Set largely in Alaska, there are aspects of the movie “The Grey.” Timber wolves abound, but unlike that film, the Bourne wolves get more than they bargained for with a genetically enhanced assassin.
There’s an encounter with unfriendly Outcome agent #3 (Oscar Isaac) who’s been banished to an outpost in the mountains for a romantic transgression; a Predator drone on snow pontoons looking for them in Alaska,
and lots of intrigue, second-guessing, and mind games. We experience how devastating a drone strike really is. There’s an especially tense massacre in a chemical lab. And when “Legacy” finally cuts to the chase, it’s one heck of a chase.
Low R.T. Rating
Matt Damon owned Jason Bourne so thoroughly, much like Sean Connery owning James Bond, that it’s most likely the case that audiences and critics alike felt a bit betrayed by the introduction of Jeremy Renner. The universal knee-jerk reaction seems to have been get this new guy out of here! I myself felt the same way but decided to reserve judgement; Renner should be innocent until proven guilty.
It could be argued that it was Matt Damon’s humble everyman persona and no-nonsense sensibility that made the “Bourne” series so believable, and therefore riveting. Damon specializes in everyday men who are somewhat bland on the surface yet genius-level brilliant underneath. That’s who he is in real life, a good-looking but regular Joe. Who just happened to attend Harvard.
Jeremy Renner’s stock-in-trade is an even more regular-looking guy who radiates a powerful undercurrent of danger. Given the new storyline, Renner was a perfect casting replacement for Damon.
What also made the first Bourne movie so compelling was the redemption aspect. Bourne’s loss of memory allowed a different consciousness to step in, one that appeared to still have an unsullied conscience, and which recoiled in disgust upon discovering his earlier existence as a trained assassin.
Renner’s Aaron Cross knows exactly who he is and what he does for a living. When the “chems” in his system wear off, he may have a change of heart. But that’s another movie. For now, in “The Bourne Legacy,” he’s just dangerous—and highly watchable.
‘The Bourne Legacy’
Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Rating: 4 stars out of 5