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Critic's Notebook: Why 'Bourne Legacy' Isn't As Mature As It Thinks -- And What You Should See Instead

By Todd Gilchrist | Indiewire August 10, 2012 at 9:11AM

There's a big difference between complex and confusing, but "The Bourne Legacy" confuses the latter for the former.
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Although he's initially frustrated by her ostrichlike obliviousness to the ramifications of Outcome, he's essentially always tender with her, which (again) undermines the idea that he and his fellow operatives are cucumber-cool loners, much less that they're loners in dire need of socialization/ the love of a good and patient companion. Regardless, no actress of her caliber should have to recite the kind of expository dialogue she's given in the five-minute driving scene that takes place after Cross rescues her.

Renner, meanwhile, throws himself physically into the role of Aaron Cross, but never taps into anything that makes us truly sympathetic to him, except for the obvious identification with how much it sucks when people are trying to kill you. Seldom has a film made more of a case for prescription medication, but Cross' entire motivation for protecting Shearing and taking the risks that he does is needing pills, or a pill substitute, so that he won't devolve into an action-hero version of Algernon. The drama of whether or not a superhuman killing machine gets his meds is precisely as exciting as it sounds, but Renner isn't to blame for the lackluster impact his character leaves.

The film's set pieces are all well-executed but uninspiring, and only once feel remotely unsafe, when Weisz's character tries to help fend off an attacker only to almost die because of it. But its dearth of visceral thrills feels all the more disappointing because of the stupidity heaped on top of it and presented as the same sort of adult-level complexity its predecessors possessed.
 
Meanwhile, the independent and international film industries seem more than capable of providing thrilling, thoughtful action vehicles. Sony Classics' "The Raid: Redemption" knocked out audiences earlier this year with its dizzyingly elaborate fight choreography. "Sleepless Night," which is set to be remade after enjoying a limited U.S. release in May, plays its audience like a Stradivarius by pitting our questionable sympathies for a crooked cop against the determination of a father who will stop at nothing to rescue his son. Even "Act of Valor," which was largely dismissed as a shameless commercial for military recruitment, featured some great action sequences, and a plot that attempted to highlight the moral and philosophical (not to mention physical) ramifications of working for a government entity.

By comparison, "The Bourne Legacy" is a boring, crass and seemingly pointless franchise reboot."The Bourne Identity" launched the series with the pretext that its main character had to come to terms with not just who but what he was before he lost his memory -- in short, it was a character study. "Supremacy" had the boldness to wrap up its story with a quiet apology by focusing on genuine storytelling. And all three films had not just a cohesiveness of physical and intellectual concepts, but an appealingly reckless energy that tied the two together even when one or the other didn’t make much sense.
 
After the satisfying completion of that trilogy, this film’s tagline makes it feel like an afterthought tacked on for reasons less creative than commercial: "There was never just one," reads the tagline. But if this is what constitutes a legitimate spinoff from the previous "Bourne" installments, then perhaps there should have been.

This article is related to: Critic's Notebook, Reviews, The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner, Matt Damon, Tony Gilroy, Sleepless Night, The Raid: Redemption





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