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"THE BOURNE LEGACY"
(2012) (Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A genetically modified government assassin fights to make his enhancements permanent when his secret program is discontinued and he becomes the target.
PLOT:
Aaron Cross (JEREMY RENNER) is a genetically modified CIA assassin who belongs to a program similar to the one that engineered the now-infamous Jason Bourne. When his program is discontinued, Cross is targeted for assassination himself. He is also cut off from the drugs that give him his mental and physical superiority.

After surviving an initial attempt on his life in remote Alaska that claims the life of another agent (OSCAR ISAAC), he is compelled to seek out Dr. Marta Shearing (RACHEL WEISZ), the scientist who could administer a serum that would make his enhancements permanent. She recently survived a traumatic workplace murder-suicide that saw one of her trusted colleagues, Dr. Donald Foite (ZELKO IVANEK), snap and kill her entire research team. With the termination of the Outcome program, she is also to be tracked down and killed, so she and Cross go on the run together.

Charged with cleaning up the mess Bourne left behind in the last film, Retired Col. Eric Byer (EDWARD NORTON) and Admiral Mark Turso (STACY KEACH) play damage control from the halls, offices, and command center in Washington. The whole thing comes to a head in Manila where Byer and his team deduce Cross and Shearing are headed to concoct a serum that will make Aaron's physical and mental superiority permanent.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I really enjoy movies that take me on the "inside." One of my favorite flicks of all time is "The Hunt for Red October." Practically every person who has a speaking part in that film is on the "inside" -- inside the government, inside the military, inside the embassies, and (ultimately) inside the cover-up. The "Bourne" movies have appealed to me on that level, too. To date, we have had an unreliable main character to take us through a world of intrigue, conspiracy, technology, and super-secret spy junk. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne suffered from amnesia, so it took him most of three movies to figure how he was a genetically engineered super soldier possessing crazy-cool physical and mental abilities.

In "The Bourne Legacy," the first movie in the series without Damon, the shroud of mystery has started to lift. The main character is again a rogue assassin, this time played by Jeremy Renner, whose proverbial cheese has been left out in the wind. When the government decides to end his clandestine program, it goes all Mafia and looks to kill anyone with any ties to the black op. They, of course, miss Renner's Aaron Cross and there's hell to pay.

For the most part, Cross knows exactly what's going on throughout. He knows the players involved. He knows their moves. He knows how they think, what they have to hide, and why they are hiding it. Essentially, the CIA under the leadership of retired Col. Eric Byer and flanked by three or four sweaty bureaucrats in suits at all times is in your classic "Let's cover our sweet patootie" mode, and Renner needs to get his drugs before the agency closes up shop forever.

He tracks down the scientist, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who has given him his top-secret physicals for years, and demands new "meds" so his skills don't deteriorate. Having just survived an attempt on her life, Marta tells Cross of a serum that she can concoct at the CIA's lab in Manila that will make his modifications permanent. The hunt is then on as Byer and his operatives close in both in the States and the Philippines and Cross races to get his pharmaceutical equivalent of Popeye's spinach knowing full well that's the only way he and Marta are ever going to survive.

Inevitably, this film will be compared to the Damon trilogy, and I think it's a worthy entry in the series. And, yes, this is a series. This isn't Jason Bourne recast a la Batman or James Bond. Writer-director Tony Gilroy (wisely, I believe) has opted to set this new film in exactly the same world as the one those earlier films were set in. In fact, some of the events of "Legacy" take place during the same time as "The Bourne Ultimatum," and their stories overlap in tricky and interesting ways. This is both good and bad. There is comfort in the familiar. At the same time, though, "Legacy" labors in spots to step out from the shadow of the movies that came before it.

It's a movie really for people who crave spy games and cat-and-mouse thrillers. There is little in the way of any emotional connection to the story or the characters. You only get a few fragmented details of who Aaron Cross was before he submitted to the program. There are almost no hints of romance between the two leads. And, for some, the conspiracy and inside-the-government plotting and planning will be too dense and intricate to follow on a purely intellectual level, especially if you either haven't seen the previous films or don't quite remember them in any detail.

I personally was entertained by the flick. As much as director Paul Greengrass gets slobbered over by other critics for his visual style, I grew tired of his shaky-cam, hyper-edited action sequences. Heck, even during scenes where two characters would be talking at a table, Greengrass would give us a shot of an eyeball, then someone's finger tapping on a table coming in and out of focus, followed by weird and distorted shots of the overhead fan, then an overexposed shot of a light bulb.

Gilroy, for the most part, keeps his camera still...or at least "stiller" than the previous director. And a climactic foot chase across the rooftops of Manila that becomes a motorcycle chase is masterfully shot. Earlier sequences involving two different assaults on remote houses and a highly unnerving sequence in which a workplace is turned into a bloodbath are similarly riveting (although post-Aurora and Wisconsin, the latter is very hard to watch).

Because the Powers That Be are hoping to launch a new character and perhaps a new series of films, you're not going to get an ending here. But like Harrison Ford once said with "The Empire Strikes Back" back in 1980: "If you paid $4 and you got $6 of entertainment but no ending, you're still $2 ahead." Of course, with ticket prices the way they are now, values and expectations are always in a state of adjustment. Nevertheless, Gilroy, Renner and Co. rocked it. I give this caper a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 7, 2012 / Posted August 10, 2012


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