Nick Nunziata: The Bourne Legacy is going to be one hell of a polarizing movie. For people who the whipcrack action of the Matt Damon films speaks to it will be a letdown. For people who like their espionage movies to be more about dialogue and development it will be a salvation. This is an old fashioned movie, one where the heroes and villains don’t meet and the heroes are barely heroic at all. It’s a big coat of gray laid over a franchise already mired in it and writer/director Tony Gilroy clearly doesn’t give a damn about expectations or the status quo. Familiar faces appear and die unceremoniously. Act structures are jimmied to where a large percentage of the running time is the midsection. The ending is straight out of a more sober James Bond movie. In short, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Tim Kelly: It’s rare that I’m as conflicted about a film as I am The Bourne Legacy. There were moments where I was absolutely enthralled with the film, where the action or the intrigue reassured that the Bourne series could and should live on. There’s a cold sterility and lack of compassion that position Legacy as a sort of Tinker, Tailor-lite for people who can appreciate that sort of thing. And there’s the requisite meaty acting on display, a necessity for this sort of picture.
But this is a film with some very major flaws. For me, they keep Legacy from achieving its ultimate goals. This being the “House that Damon & Greengrass Built (with a Doug Liman shove-off),” I’d say The Bourne Legacy is inoffensive enough to have not killed Universal’s franchise dead. I can forgive an extended, action-free second act because Legacy had earned its story up to that point. But it’s a build with no payoff. I can forgive a lot about Bourne Legacy; I cannot forgive its ending.
Nick Nunziata: I love the ending. The best old school films were built on a foundation of looseness and slight animosity to the standards and Legacy doesn’t offer easy solutions. There are so many moments I look forward to revisiting, whether it be the amazing laconic work of Edward Norton, the truly interesting scientific ideas at play regarding these “super soldiers”, or seeing three films worth of characters and developments either pay off or be proven counter to the direction the franchise is going. Jeremy Renner isn’t a leading man. He’s a great second piece or a compliment but he’s perfect for this film. This isn’t connective tissue. This a bridge between the kind of movie the previous Bourne movies were and higher achieving fare like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Tim Kelly: My read is an admittedly more cynical one and has everything to do with Universal’s need to keep this franchise (shit, any franchise) earning. I’d love to believe that Gilroy is taking the approach you lay out above, but it feels to me like foundations were laid for payoffs that never arrive. Where the earlier Bourne films maneuvered to bring Damon’s character in direct conflict with the puppeteers working to end him, Legacy keeps introducing distractions. Aaron Cross (Renner) is an agent for Operation Outcome, which is some next-level shit in comparison to the Treadstone which gave us Jason Bourne. But in light of Treadstone’s failure, the government moves quickly to wipe this new super-soldier program off the books as well. And it’s not just agents who are killed. The doctors who engineered the pills (“chems” in the film) that enhanced the cognitive and physical prowesses of Outcome agents must be dealt with as well.
This is the premise that brings Cross and Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) together and drives the film’s narrative. And it works up to a point. Issues with the ending notwithstanding, this a film with great build. I love everything about the first act, from Renner’s demeanor in the mountains (Grey fans will find a lot to like early) to Zeljko Ivanek’s meltdown, by far the film’s most affecting scene.
But the deeper we tread (stone), the more disenfranchised I found myself. Cross’ need for chems take he and Shearing to Manilla, the site where chems are manufactured. I’d argue that Legacy is a great film before we get to Manilla. But the story lingers there beyond necessity, and a lot’s left unresolved. This film was begging for a payoff between Renner and Norton, the film’s two heavyweights. Instead, we get a late-to-the-game third act villain and a 17-minute chase sequence that’s 16-minutes too long.
Nick Nunziata: To force Norton and Renner into a scene is worse than having them separate. One is a man of action and the other is a puppetmaster. And both guys make a lot of decisions in the film that could be considered “right” and many which lead to innocents in the crosshairs. Ideally this isn’t a franchise reboot per se, but at the least a franchise enhancer. The moments in the cabin at the films outset create a very interesting atmosphere. As do the moments in the war rooms populated by Norton and his staff. There are so many great little dialogue moments for Norton I almost crave a film where he just walks around tersely telling people to get with the program.
The chase sequence isn’t overlong. It’s breakneck and in films like this there’s always the compulsion to pad the film with trailer moments.
And any film that treats a wolf as harshly as this one does is worth special attention.
Tim Kelly: Nothing about that chase works for me. It’s made all the more jarring because, up to that point, Gilroy had framed his action perfectly. Earlier, there’s a tracking shot that follows Renner up and into the side of a house to medievally dispatch a mofo. It’s the kind of shot you wouldn’t get in a Greengrass Bourne, and it led me to believe that Gilroy was working to refine the series’ style and inject his own preferences into the proceedings. But that final chase sequence is an eyesore. Gilroy adds to the confusion by integrating jarring quick cuts of traffic that don’t illuminate the scene in the least, they distract from it. Up to this point, Gilroy had worked away from the Bourne-style closeup action the series is known for. And then, in one elongated chase, he takes that tired style a few steps too far.
But I keep coming back to that ending for a reason. Before the chase happens, Cross already has all the resolution he needed. He’s succeeded in his endgame. The chase never works off that or builds toward a greater climax. Our main players are on the run. And then, after the chase, they’re still on the run. So what’s ultimately resolved by the end of this picture?
It amounts to Universal’s desperation to string this franchise along. Renner and Norton don’t have to beat each other down, nor does the cat and mouse game have to end here, but it needed to come to a head. The Aaron Cross you meet in the beginning of the film is essentially the same Aaron Cross you say goodbye to at the credits. There’s a scene earlier in the film that hints at just how much these two resent each other. But neither man gets the upper hand. They’re in a tug-of-war of trial and error that will no doubt extend beyond this film. It’s not a cliffhanger, it’s a…
Nick Nunziata: Tony Gilroy is doing some interesting riffing here. Bottom line. Michael Clayton is 6/7ths a classic movie and Duplicity is the best kind of playful comedic thriller. The guy is working with a unique set of skills so when he approaches something like this with a hearty franchise but a little less expectation I applaud him playing without a net. Structure, arcs, and all that jazz are great but this is a ‘feel’ movie and it works on all the levels it needs to. The action scene at the end isn’t ugly. It’s frantic. And it has some great moments and one particularly great payoff. I felt energized by its ballsiness. I loved the weird pacing decisions. And there are simply too many really great moments that will make this a standout movie in the series over time. It’s not a tight movie like the Damon films. It’s not a lithe fighter trapped in a corner. It’s a wild animal attacking by cover of night. Tony Gilroy took the keys to a formula franchise [albeit a great one] and did something odd and curious and fantastic with it.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Tim Kelly: Especially after slogging through Total Recall last week, you learn what constitutes a good action flick. I found a lot of fault with this Legacy, but this is not a bad film. If you keep your expectations in check and know that the ending is totally lacking in satisfactory resolution of any sort, there’s simply too much good here to look the other way. Had Gilroy found a way to keep his chase scene and its accompanying resolution consistent with the rest of his film, I’d probably be giving this a 4 right along with Nick. But every great legacy has a beginning, middle and an end. The Bourne Legacy almost gets there, but the big finish is decidedly lacking.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars