½*/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B-
starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach
screenplay by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy
directed by Tony Gilroy
by Walter Chaw By the end of Tony Gilroy's unbearably long and talky The Bourne Legacy, one is left feeling as though the film hasn't even started yet. Nothing happens in it, and the only thing it inspires is anticipation: it's all first act; all supplementary material; all self-importance and hot air. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) sits this one out while another similar soldier, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), occupies a space parallel to the first three films, climbing mountains, Grey-ing wolves, and saving hot virologist Dr. Marta (Rachel Weisz) from the clutches of our evil government so that she can infect him with a virus that makes him smart. This leads to a moment, inevitable, where Cross suggests that losing 12 points off his artificially-inflated IQ would result in some personal "Flowers for Algernon" apocalypse where 12 points would probably result in him forgetting his phone number at worst. It also leads to a series of incoherent flashbacks that fit in perfectly with Gilroy's impossible-to-follow action sequences; if you're just going to turn a camera on and throw it out a window, why bother trying to set it up? For those keeping score, there are more spinning Lazy Susan shots here than in Transformers: Asshole. You've been warned.
There's nothing more to the story than Aaron wanting to stay smart and the CIA--with head-spook/analyst Byer (Ed Norton, thisclose to swallowing himself whole like some Ouroborosian worm) in the lead--wanting to see him dead. Why they want him and his buddies dead isn't exactly clear, particularly if we remember the activation of other agents to catch Jason in the previous films, and hardly explained away by the appearance in this one of some genetic superfreak (Louis Ozawa Changchein)--the Kraken released and summarily dispatched in the most disappointing climax of the year. Shot in extreme close-up with no sense of space or consequence, none of the action in the picture is comprehensible. None of the exposition is comprehensible, either, alternating as it does between megalomaniacal paranoia and bad smart/dumb science-speak that drones on and on. If not for the peculiar ability of Weisz to lend pathos to a phone-book reading, I would have dropped off any number of times.
Her wounded, desperate quality, in fact, fuels the film's only affecting set-piece: a workplace shooting that feels too near to recent events in the United States, startling for its cleanness and brutality. It's an interesting thing when the most stimulating scene of violence in a Bourne movie doesn't include the star or do much to advance the narrative, though Gilroy tries to disguise this with reams of punishing technobabble. Whenever Cross isn't jumping around on cliffs or buildings, in fact, The Bourne Legacy is running lines on shaky-cam that we're supposed to care about as much as the characters do. (If you do happen to give a shit about a 1.5% increase in mitochondrial stimulation, man, have I got the movie for you.) A centrepiece sequence in which our intelligence community tracks Cross and Marta from a burning house to an airport to Manila is the quintessence of the picture's tediousness, demonstrating that Gilroy's fine so long as someone else is directing and, obviously, reshaping his screenplays.
What worked about the Bourne saga until now was Damon's everyman surprise to discover that he's maybe a replicant, implanted with memories and superhuman in many ways. His quest begins as existential and ends as fatalistic; something about the idea that the quest for God always ends in an acceptance of chaos really appeals to me. What kills The Bourne Legacy, beyond its complete technical failure, is that its hero doesn't wonder what he is (he's Martin Riggs) and wants to keep being what he is while avoiding the U.S. military-industrial complex and maybe gaining an extremely attractive doctor girlfriend in the process. Manila is portrayed as a sweaty throng, Bethesda is portrayed as a frigid wasteland, and the action is so genuinely godawful that you begin to dread the next bout. It's abusive, actually--movie-by-sledgehammer, and the bulk of it is spent in a fugue state wondering whether Jason Bourne is going to make a cameo and whether Paddy Considine came back to recreate his walking-on-a-street scene from the second sequel or they cobbled this crap together from outtakes like a Jim Wynorski flick. The Bourne Legacy is a real shame--not merely the worst entry in a series I've liked until now, but also one of the worst movies of the year.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Universal shepherds The Bourne Legacy to Blu-ray in a fantastic 2.40:1, 1080p presentation. Robert Elswit shot the picture mostly in 35mm (some of the action was easier to capture digitally), and the image on this disc has a pronounced but tight and razor-sharp grain structure, as well as a steely but not egregiously artificial palette. Fine detail is impressive, even to this veteran Blu-ray hound, and dynamic range is above reproach. The attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track, downmixed to 5.1 by mine and presumably most receivers, similarly wows, especially--for me, personally--during the workplace shooting, throughout which an alarm trills in the rear right channel while gunshots go splat in the subwoofer, piercing the dialogue vacuum like a knife in a Casaba melon. Voices lack consistent volume, but the mix as presented strikes a nice balance between realism and big audio dynamite.
Also on board is a feature-length group commentary from co-writer/director Tony Gilroy, co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy (yep, they're brothers), Elswit, second-unit director Dan Bradley, and production designer Kevin Thompson. Their conversation is "forensic" in nature, a post-mortem speculating on the ultimate result of creative decisions made much earlier in a different frame of mind. I have to say, I was left gobsmacked by the revelation that everything outside the numerous windows of Marta's home in the film was computer-generated. This may be the most seamless greenscreening I've ever seen. Gilroys Tony and Dan rejoin Elswit for optional commentary over three deleted scenes that Tony insists we think of as canon. That doesn't mean much until we get to Albert Finney's death, incidentally merely the latest example of Tony's penchant for having nameless black-hats untraceably dispose of whistleblowers in the middle of the night. Creepy. But, hey, more Finney!
Additionally find multiple short featurettes, starting with the disposable "Re-Bourne" (6 mins., HD). Really only the tech-oriented ones are worth the effort; consider Tony's assertion that the casting of Aaron Cross was critical in "Enter Aaron Cross" (7 mins., HD), for instance: No shit, Sherlock. Likewise critical: that there was film in the camera. "Crossing Continents: Legacy on Location" (8 mins., HD) is mostly about shooting in Manila, which was chosen over Saigon because it's more "Bourne-ish" (Tony's words) and because its frequent use as a Vietnam stand-in meant there was already a movie-industry infrastructure in place. (Here, for a change, the city played itself, in all its poverty-stricken glory.) "Man vs. Wolf"(5 mins., HD) reveals the trickery behind Cross's wolf encounter, while "Wolf Sequence Test" (2 mins., HD) is a crude but riveting animatic of the sequence in question. One wolf was trained so well that what registers on film as Renner wrestling the beast is actually the wolf and his trainer frolicking in the snow.
"Moving Targets: Aaron and Marta" (6 mins.) has Weisz making her character's relationship with Renner's sound a lot more interesting than it is, though she's not technically wrong to call it "really bizarre, slightly perverse, and totally unique." Here we see that the production was known on set as "Marcher," I guess to throw looky-loos off the scent. Lastly, "Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase" (8 mins.) functions as a salute to Bradley, who's shown directing Louis Ozawa Changchien (Larx-03) in terms of beats. It was Bradley who conceived the motorbike skidding down the railing, described in the script as simply a "cool-as-fuck gag" to be determined later. The piece ably demonstrates the advantages of a second-unit (dedicated time and resources, a veteran's expertise), making it something of an antidote to Christopher Nolan's DIY propaganda.
HiDef trailers for Death Race 3: Inferno, Ted, Hit & Run, "Transformers the Ride," "Grimm" Season 1, End of Watch, and Dead in Tombstone cue up on startup along with an anti-smoking PSA. DVD, Digital, and Ultraviolet copies of The Bourne Legacy are bundled with the BD.