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When Jason Bourne exposes Operation Treadstone at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, he sparks a bonfire that threatens to burn down decades of research and development into the building of better spies and warriors. It turns out that there are actually a variety of covert intelligence programs – all of which now feel the threat of exposure. On the verge of having their conspiracy revealed, members of the government’s intelligence community will stop at nothing to erase all evidence of their top-secret programs. With his life in jeopardy, agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) must use his genetically engineered skills to survive the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse and finish what Jason Bourne started. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

Bourne Legacy
The Jason Bourne series is interesting on a couple of levels. Each of the original three films, all starring Matt Damon, are generally the same movie and each of these movies end in a way that satisfactorily ends the journey of the Bourne character. Every time a new film in the series was announced, I questioned the need to recycle the formula yet again, especially when the last two movies, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, featured the same director, eliminating the ‘fresh, new voice’ factor of the modern James Bond series (at the same time, the vast difference in directing style between the first film and the second two makes for a creative fissure in the series that is noticeably awkward when watching all three films in a row). However, upon actually seeing each film in the Bourne series (I ended up waiting for video on all three, sadly) I realized that each film is better than the last one, or as my friend Phil Nobile Jr. recently wrote, ‘Collectively [the Bourne movies] often felt like someone practicing the same song over and over, finally nailing it on the last try.’ When I heard yet another unneeded Bourne film was coming down the wire, this time not based on one of author Robert Ludlum’s original novels and not starring Damon, I was, once again, entirely uninterested in the prospect. But, I had to remind myself that, up to this point, the pattern of this series is that of slightly better versions of the same formula. Perhaps the new lead Jeremy Renner would be the juice these movies needed. Perhaps the ‘there’s another super-secret agent’ hook wouldn’t be as hackneyed as it sounded.

Co-writer/director Tony Gilroy has now written or co-written the screenplays for all four Bourne films, which, I suppose, makes him something of an expert on the process. I tend to consider the acting and directing to be the stronger elements in these films, but, clearly, Gilroy knows how to put the character in the proper context and also knows how to not lose the plot in spy-movie mumbo-jumbo. His directing credits include the multi-Academy Award nominated Michael Clayton and Duplicity, both of which share general heist and political thriller elements with the Bourne series, but neither of which feature much in the way of memorable imagery. Up until this point, it would be pretty easy to refer to his brand of direction as ‘cool’ and ‘slick,’ which would seem to put him more in the Doug Liman/ Bourne Identity category, rather than the much rougher, cinéma vérité category Paul Greengrass pushed for his two entries in the series. Greengrass has a lot to answer for, considering the glut of shaky-cam action that he inspired, but his patented imagery really does define modern action movies, at least those that aren’t depending on a lot of special effects. Gilroy tends to follow Greengrass’ lead in terms of colour palette and pseudo-vérité shake, but there’s no mistaking that Bourne Legacy is just as much a stylistic follow-up to Michael Clayton as it is to The Bourne Ultimatum. Occasionally, things are a bit over-cut (the human eye just doesn’t work that quickly) and the 2.35:1 frame seems cramped, but for the most part Gilroy’s direction makes geographic sense and his action scenes feature some thoroughly taut suspense beats (though nothing approaching Greengrass’ edge-of-your-seat nail-biters). ‘Effective, but entirely generic’ would be a good way of summing it up.

Bourne Legacy
The problem here, besides a general lack of new ideas, is a weak script. Gilroy and his brother Dan try to set up a new character while reminding us of the events of the previous film, which apparently have either just taken place or are currently taking place. This sort of apes the narrative structure of Greengrass’ movies, but so much of it feels like old news (even when it’s new news) that vast expanses of film time are genuinely boring, rather than the intended windup to more action-packed break-aways from plot. The story merely meanders into further action set-pieces, most of which carry little emotional or narrative weight and more sequences of a roomful of people in suits trying to track our heroes (all the while re-explaining the plot to us). The time-line overlap with Bourne Ultimatum might sound like a good idea on paper, but makes it impossible for this new movie to stand on its own. I’ve seen Ultimatum two or three times, but was still left confused by the places the two films cross each other. It also makes it feel like Universal and the producers are biding their time on Renner until they can get Damon back for a fifth film. The sad thing is that the best scenes in the movie tend to involve strictly new characters, which kind of makes everything Bourne about the film moot. The whole movie probably would’ve worked better entirely divorced from the other films. Perhaps being accused of being too similar to the Bourne series would’ve been better than being tangentially (not to mention boringly) attached to it.

I’m glad Renner has found fame. His guest roles in films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 28 Weeks Later were always pleasant, and his Hurt Locker Best Actor nomination was well-earned. But the world should be his oyster and he’s already typecasting himself into an early B-movie oblivion. His last three performances – Hawkeye in Avengers (with a cameo in Thor), William Brandt in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Aaron Cross here – are basically the same performances with slight differentiations in levity and realistic environments ( Avengers is the only flat-out sci-fi film here, but all three are pretty unrealistic, action-based thrillers). Aaron Cross may be the least amusing character I’ve ever seen him play (even his Jeffery Dahmer was good for a few smiles), which makes him the least interesting of Renner’s special agent trifecta. The other cast newcomers include Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and Stacy Keach, all of whom are just as typecast as Renner. Norton and Keach sleepwalk through the film charmingly enough while Weisz gives her best shot at something a little deeper. It’s obvious that the Gilroys are trying to recreate the relationship between Damon and Franka Potente/Julia Stiles from the original films and, for the most part, the thematic reestablishment works. The film tends to waste their talents on long-winded arguments and mouthfuls of exposition (poor, poor Weisz is given the absolute most boring dialogue to spew), but they’re fun to watch together. Because of timeline overlap with Bourne Ultimatum there’s a lot of returning cast, most of which are antagonists (in some form or another), including Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, and Scott Glenn, but these are cameos at best.

Bourne Legacy

Video


The Bourne Legacy was shot on Super 35mm and this 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer shows only minor signs of the format’s usual grain levels. In fact, this whole movie is so clean looking that I’m not sure why it wasn’t shot digital HD. Only during the absolute most sterile indoor shots does grain really appear, while other common 35mm artefacts, like edge enhancement, are practically non-existent. The film stock does come in handy in terms of texture and despite a generally crisp look the rough qualities of skin, hair, and clothing contrast nicely against the mostly smooth backdrops. Complex wide-angle patterns and details are very sharp and eclectic, including Yukon mountain ranges, de-saturated DC sky-scapes, and brief, advertisement-caked street scenes from non-American countries. Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit (who, besides working with Gilroy on Michael Clayton and Duplicity, also worked with Renner on Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in 2012) have a pretty clear colour palette and general look set from frame one. In general, we’re talking more of the old orange and teal, but with a slightly more natural tint to the skin tones. Early, daylight scenes of Renner in the Yukon wilderness, along with final act shots of the streets of Manila offer some vestiges of a natural palette (specifically in the browns missing from the rest of the film), but Gilroy and Elswit more commonly stick us with a whole lot of cool tones, which is in keeping with both of Greengrass’ Bourne films (the constant cool lighting also makes the characters appear to be prematurely graying). Reds and yellows tend to pop nicely without any bleeding effects, and the base green and blue (to make teal, you see) tints the mix smoothly without banding or blocking effects.

Bourne Legacy

Audio


The Bourne movies have been aurally defined by wide dynamic ranges throughout two different directors so far and it makes sense that The Bourne Legacy would continue the trend. This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is full of sharp, effective noise and, yes, the emphasis is set upon dynamic ranges. There are sequences featuring general ambience, but the more regular practice is to almost entirely encapsulate a scene in silence with only dialogue and the most basic, actor-controlled sound effects. This helps set us up for the more aggressive action punches, like drone fighters, drone fighter missiles, gunshots, and explosions, all of which sound plenty punchy. The final act’s extensive foot, motorcycle, and car chases also offer up a bounty of revving engines, squealing rubber, and crunching metal. Equally impressive are surprising little directional additions during the non-action moments, such as times when characters wander from super-secret CIA room to super-secret CIA room while hydraulically enhanced doors click and hiss around them.  Composer James Newton Howard, who worked with Gilroy on Michael Clayton, takes his first crack at the Bourne series here, following in the footsteps of John Powell, who moved away from techno to more single-minded, driving string scores as the series went on. This soundtrack moves a bit back into electronica arena and doesn’t feature much in the way of memorable themes, but as far as ambient musical noise goes, it certainly does its job, especially when it’s moving montage sequences along their way with percussion. The musical sound features a nice stereo spread, effective rear channel echo, and throbbing LFE enhancement.

Bourne Legacy

Extras


Extras begin with a commentary track featuring co-writer/director Tony Gilroy, co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy, cinematographer Robert Elswit, second unit director Dan Bradley, and production designer Kevin Thompson. Tony rules the track pretty thoroughly and is a ‘just the facts’ kind of guy. The basic M.O. of the track goes something like this: Tony says something about the behind the scenes process, stumbles over something that someone else in the room may know more about, then asks that person to elaborate. At worst, it sounds like he’s pressing people that don’t really want to talk, but more often than not, the effect is informative, if not a little too low-key. Any breakaway for laughs is very welcome.

Up next is ReBourne (6:10, HD), a fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK/featurette including scenes from the film, raw set footage, and interviews with producers Frank Marshal and Patrick Crowly, both Tony and Dan Gilroy, and actors Renner, Norton, Weisz, and Shane Jacob. Enter Aaron Cross (7:10, HD) further explores Renner’s character, specifically comparing and contrasting him to Damon’s character and praising the actor’s physical prowess. It includes more interviews (this time including second unit director Dan Bradley and stunt coordinator Chris O’Hara) and behind-the-scenes images. Crossing Continents: Legacy on Location (8:20, HD) covers the production’s worldwide location shooting, which included trips to Canada and Manila. Man vs. Wolf (4:40, HD) briefly covers the process of filming the movie’s random wolf fighting sequence, including wolf casting, wolf training, and animatronic wolves. This is followed by footage from the wolf sequence test reel (1:40, HD). Moving Targets: Aaron and Martha (6:10, HD) continues the fluffy EPK/featurette thing going with a look at the relationship between Renner and Weisz’ characters. Extras are completed with Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase (7:50, HD), a look at the extended motorcycle chase, three deleted scenes with optional commentary (6:40, HD), and trailers for other Universal releases.

Bourne Legacy

Overall


The Bourne Legacy is inoffensively unremarkable and clearly exists just to keep the franchise moving. The climatic parkour chase over Third World country tin shacks is sort of the final nail in the ‘no original ideas left’ coffin, despite being a decent example of the trope (of course, it leads into a motorcycle chase). Then it just kind of ends – half-leading into a sequel and half simply running out of steam. This Blu-ray release looks and sounds fine, but the extras, which appear plentiful on the box art, really don’t amount to a whole lot more than brief EPKs.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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