Movie review by Greg Carlson
Judging by the vibe of the “Skyfall” trailer that ran before “The Bourne Legacy,” Mr. Bourne has made a lasting impression on the architects of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There were plenty of political-espionage-action movie junkies who made the claim that the Bourne series upped the ante for the long-lived but out-of-touch James Bond franchise, which cannily rebooted in 2006 with “Casino Royale” and Daniel Craig as a new 007 for an attention deficit audience. The vertiginous camerawork, quasi-intellectual spook gamesmanship, and the supercharged hand-to-hand combat present in Doug Liman’s and Paul Greengrass’s visions of Robert Ludlum’s black ops fantasy were rapidly assimilated by the Bond team, who also paid attention to Bourne’s grim determination and less overtly idealized and decidedly unglamorous take on globetrotting.
Matt Damon only appears in a still photograph on a video screen in “The Bourne Legacy,” and the star passes the torch if not the moniker to Jeremy Renner, whose pill-popping Aaron Cross brings a hint of “Flowers for Algernon” pathos to a character whose artificially enhanced physical self is treated with one set of chemicals and his intellect with another. Identity operates as a central thematic concern in each of the Bourne features, and the fascinating revelation that Renner’s one-time military recruit originally failed to meet the government’s minimum IQ threshold could have been a more potent plot point as Cross and scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) race to Manila to prevent the diminishment of Cross’s intelligence.
Weisz essentially fulfills the Smurfette Principle as far as the core cast goes, unsurprising given the movie’s target demographic but disappointing all the same. Other than Joan Allen in a loose-end tie-up, only a couple of women act in parts with dialogue and unfortunately Julia Stiles does not return as key contact Nikki Parsons, one of the most sympathetic and humanizing participants in the first three Bourne movies. It would be interesting to see a female Treadstone or Blackbriar or Outcome agent in a commanding role, a possibility that would enliven any future installments of a presumably Damon-less Bourne universe. Short of a Damon-Renner team-up, couldn’t someone convince Damon to at least participate as the Georgetown linguistics professor persona of Bourne/David Webb?
Several of the previous Bourne players return in varying levels of brevity and import, including David Strathairn’s Blackbriar Director Noah Vosen, Allen’s CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, Scott Glenn’s CIA Director Ezra Kramer, Paddy Considine’s Guardian reporter Simon Ross, and Albert Finney’s sinister Albert Hirsch, but all are subordinate to the presence of Edward Norton as Eric Byer, a retired air force colonel who seemingly possesses the nation’s highest security clearance. Norton uses his considerable skill set to lace Byer with a level of commitment and resourcefulness that overcomes the limitations of being perpetually stationed in windowless situation rooms.
Does the loss of Damon deal a devastating blow to the future of Bourne, or can Renner convince viewers to see more of these films? James Bond has enjoyed the luxury of regular reinterpretation through the revolving door policy toward its leading man, but the Bourne series has thus far been dependent on the combination of amnesia/memory loss as a chief story motivator and the deliberately complex machinations of the United States government’s patriot games, perfectly tuned to be read apolitically, so long as everyone agrees that motorcycle chases and punches to the face are cool.