So, the future of one of the great action movie franchises, the continuing story of Jason Bourne, was looking fairly bleak. Paul Greengrass, who had directed Supremacy and Ultimatum, didn’t want to do it anymore, and Matt Damon didn’t want to work with a different director. Enter Tony Gilroy, who wrote the previous three Bournes, and had an idea for another one, with another ‘Jason Bourne.’ Bourne, if you recall, is a genetically enhanced super-spy, a product of Operation Outcome, a top secret program producing uber-spooks. Gilroy’s solution, maybe there’s more of them.
This makes sense to me. The style of the Bourne films, the frenetic hand-held camera stuff, and all the guys in suits talking about ops in various codes–is it Operation Treadstone, is it Operation Blackbriar, who is Ed Norton and what does he stand for?–that’s all Greengrass. But the story, the continuing, complex, convoluted, paranoid, war-on-terror amorality, that’s all Tony Gilroy. He’s the perfect person to keep the franchise alive, and the perfect person to direct The Bourne Legacy. (The Robert Ludlum Jason Bourne novels, on which the series is ostensibly based, has been long-ago abandoned and ignored, and good riddance–I read one of them once, can’t remember a thing about it.)
Question one: can you make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne? Answer: sure. Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, another black-ops chem experiment gone human. The story, this time, is actually fairly simple, though the characters all speak in such carefully coded double-speak and nerd-jargon that it’s not always easy to follow. Anyway, he’s on a training mission in Alaska with another operative, when out of nowhere, an unmanned drone tries to kill him. Turns out Ed Norton, learning that Jason Bourne (who basically isn’t in this, except in conversations about him), has compromised the program, has decided to shut it down, basically by killing everyone involved in its creation. Cross figures out he’s in trouble. Cross is also out of pills. Outcome agents have pills they take to keep stable their genetic mutations for extra physical prowess and intelligence. Cross needs more pills. He knows the doctor who had examined him in previous debriefings, Dr. Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and figures she can get him more pills. After saving her life–a terrifically tense action sequence–she explains she can do him one better–she can ‘virus him out,’ seal his mutations with a special virus. Problem is, the virus is in Manila, in the Phillipines. So they have to go there, which means a plane flight, which means passports and IDs and security cameras, which puts them back on the government’s radar. So all these very tense scenes in Manila.
Question two: Can Jeremy Renner replace Matt Damon as an action movie hero? Answer: you bet he can. Renner’s a terrific actor (his performance in The Hurt Locker is one I’ll not soon forget), and he’s got what Damon has, the ability to project a fundamental human decency despite the awful things he’s been trained and ordered to do. He’s great in the action sequences, and he’s charismatic and compelling. He’s great.
Question three: How can Rachel Weisz look better at forty-two than she did in her mid-twenties when she was doing The Mummy movies. Not sure, but she does; my wife pointed it out immediately. She’s a wonderful actor too–The Fountain, The Shape of Things, The Constant Gardener, and The Whistleblower give some idea of her range. She and Renner have a wonderful chemistry in this, not as lovers, but as bright and resourceful people who need each other to survive. I also love how she runs, arms pumping high. Some actors, when they run, look dorky–Zoey Deschenel comes to mind. Weisz is almost as good an on-screen runner as Tom Cruise.
Question four: does the film still keep that contemporary feel, that paranoid war-on-terror, the ends-justifying-the-means amorality that is so central to the films’ appeal? Yes, yes, and more yes, mostly because Ed Norton is such a wonderfully bureaucratic bad guy. What a fine character actor he’s becoming!
Should you go see it? Absolutely. My wife loved it as much as I did. Very exciting, exceptionally well-made, topical and scary. Must-see movie-making at its finest.