New ‘Bourne’ Film Almost Miscarries

Can you imagine watching movies about Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford or Dirty Harry without Clint Eastwood or Rocky Balboa without Sylvester Stallone or the Terminator without Arnold Schwarzenegger or John McClane without Bruce Willis?

I can’t, and that’s why I was more than a little apprehensive about viewing “The Bourne Legacy” sans Matt Damon, who excelled playing Jason Bourne in the first three films of the series.  Although the film has some decent action sequences in it, I still would have preferred to see Damon reprise his role because a movie bearing the name Bourne definitely lacks something when that hero doesn’t even appear in it.

“The Bourne Legacy” opens in frigid Alaska, where we find Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) working on a training assignment. Cross is a participant in Operation Outcome, a black ops program under the auspices of the Department of Defense. Field operatives in the program are placed on a regular regimen of pills aka “chems” that provide a huge boost to their physical and mental abilities. Cross’s assignment is to survive some severe tests en route to a isolated cabin.

When he arrives at his destination, he meets an exiled operative known only as Number Three (Oscar Isaac), who informs Cross that he has managed to surpass the previous record for the mission by three days. Number Three seems to be friendly enough, but this is a film in which no one is what he or she seems to be.

Now while Cross is becoming acquainted with his new buddy, we learn that two covert operations, the Treadstone Project and Operation Blackbriar, are no longer top secret because of what Jason Bourne did in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and this resulted in a massive investigation of top level people in the CIA. To save the organization from undergoing any additional scrutiny, Eric Byer, (Edward Norton), who oversaw the CIA’s secret activities, decides to wipe out all traces of the programs, and this of course includes eliminating all the living operatives.

From this point on, the plot becomes intricately complicated, but suffice it to say that Cross ends up running for his life. As Byer’s thugs systematically annihilate any possible allies for Cross, the poor guy finally finds a friend in Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a brilliant biochemist whom he rescues when Byer’s soldiers attack her in her house. She has been working in a secret lab in Maryland and holds the key Cross’s getting off his meds, but they must travel to Manila for the cure.

Of course Byer doesn’t give up easily, and when he tracks down Cross and Shearing, he dispatches Larx-03 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a soldier who has been rendered virtually indestructible by chemical enhancements, to kill them. And of course the chase is on.

Although “The Bourne Legacy” offers some good action sequences and although two-time Academy Award nominee Renner is quite effective in his portrayal of Cross, the fact remains that this is a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. I thought the first part of the film was slow in places because of all the conversation when the CIA bigwigs were trying to decide a course of action, and I also found the plot confusing in spots. In fact it wasn’t until Cross and Shearing teamed up that I really became interested in the whole thing.

Renner and Weisz work well together in the film, and they also succeed in making us like their respective characters. In the film’s production notes, Renner explained that he was in no way trying to take over Matt Damon’s role and also what attracted him to the film.

“What Matt Damon did, and what the previous directors have done, was great. For those who love the franchise, I’m not replacing Matt, nor would I want to. It would never have been interesting if I was taking over and playing the same character. Matt is always the face of Jason Bourne and always should be. I liked this script because it was a very interesting way of continuing the story while honoring what came before.

“It doesn’t veer into the CGI world or massive explosions. It stays authentic. It was important for me to want to find humanity within this character. What matters is that there is believability in everything we do in the film. No matter what the stunt is or the setup, it’s all based in reality, truth and the potential of science. As an actor, that’s easy to grab onto.”

Weisz really got into the part of Shearing, and in the production notes she offered some interesting incite into her character.

“She’s at the cutting edge of science, and she thinks she’s contributing to her country. But at the same time, she does secretly know that what she’s doing has great moral ambiguity to it. I would be less interested in her if she were just doing something good and saving the world. What she’s doing is a little dubious.”

I vividly remember being on the edge of my seat as I watched the three Bourne films starring Damon, and that simply didn’t happen with this film. The electric suspense that permeated the first three films definitely was missing from this one, but the movie does offer one hell of a chase scene at the end. This sequence lasts for at least 15 minutes, and just when you think it is about to end, something happens to extend it even further.

As you might expect, numerous references to Jason Bourne occur throughout “The Bourne Legacy” (Give it a final score of six.), and one of the refrains is that “he’s still out there.” I don’t know whether any plans for additional Bourne films are in the works, but if indeed they are, I have one piece of advice for the filmmakers: If Jason Bourne is “still out there,” bring him back damn it!

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