The Bourne Legacy (2012)
With The Bourne Legacy (2012), the studio had a tricky problem to solve. Unlike other franchises, it was not thought possible to reboot the Bourne trilogy by doing an origin story of the hero using a different actor. Trying to make a new actor sympathetic when his character is a stone-cold assassin is not going to be successful. Equally, it’s not really possible to drop a new actor into the continuing series as Jason Bourne. For better or worse, Matt Damon has become indelibly associated with the role in the public’s imagination. Unlike James Bond who has been rather like Dr Who in going through reincarnations with different actors, the only way to continue was to move sideways. In this, the script has a clever idea. It assumes that Operation Treadstone was one of many projects involving the creation of “supersoldiers”. Divided like a spy cell system, each unit was unaware of the others. Only at senior levels within government was the overall plan known. With Jason Bourne potentially able to blow the whistle on at least one cell, contingency plans are put in place to shut down the other units as and when their existence may be revealed. So far, this is working well and, since we notionally overlap the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, we can bring back some of the key government players to give us continuity into the parallel series.
Somewhere in all this, there was a really good story waiting to be told. Unfortunately, what we actually see is a train wreck. I propose to discuss what goes wrong so stop reading here if you want to avoid spoilers.
The whole benefit of Operation Treadstone was that the agents were trained to kill but make the deaths look accidental. That way, the US could always give itself deniability and maintain the appearance of remaining a morally superior state. With the loss of the Operation Treadstone unit, however, the US has to make a decision as to how best to deal with any public disclosures. The first challenge comes from a British journalist who’s planning to publish a story about Operation Treadstone in The Guardian. Since any kind of diplomatic overture to the editor would confirm the existence of Operation Treadstone, the Americans decide this journalist has to go. But it’s the manner of his termination that sets the trend to complete absurdity. A sniper shoots him dead in a London railway station! What would the police and intelligence services make of that? More to the point, is it to be assumed this loyal employee of a newspaper with an international reputation did not have all his research notes and drafts available to the editor? How can the Americans have gone from subtle to stupid in so short a time?
Then they decide to take out an entire group of people working in a lab no-one has tagged as engaged in secret work. Unfortunately having a crazed gunman execute everyone is the best possible way to focus everyone’s attention on this lab and for people to ask what the scientists were doing. Worse, when the token woman escapes death, a cover story is put out that she was messing with dangerous viruses and her home must be quarantined. This is just pouring oil on the flames. Why not take a squad of trusted operatives and talk the scientists into quietly changing identities and moving elsewhere. There can be cover stories for their disappearance. Later, they can be gassed and their bodies dropped down a crevasse in Alaska. Having them disappear is better than this high-profile rerunning of another gun massacre. All these supposed experts are doing is calling attention to what should be kept quiet. More importantly, the film is portraying the American government as having gone way beyond the bounds of ordinary morality and acting with complete disregard to state, federal and international laws.
We then come to the Manilla sequence which, frankly, is interminable. They con their way into the secret basement except we see absolutely nothing like a lab there. Even in CSI, they give their scientists a microscope through which to view the sexy viruses. This superscientist can go into an apparently empty basement, cook up a virus within ten minutes, and give it to our hero. It acts within a few hours to return him to maximum intelligence. He just needs to sleep it off. Even nutty science fiction films manage the pretence of science better than this. So instead of giving us a blow-by-blow account of our hero’s decline to the low level of intelligence he had when he joined the army, which would have given him a more sympathetic quality, he goes from brainy hero to zero and back to brainy hero in about eight hours.
The arrival of the other supersoldier was also wasted. All they do is run across a few rooftops, climb around a bit and then chase each other on motorbikes until the “other one” hits a concrete pillar. What a waste of an opportunity for some real fighting action. In this, Jeremy Renner is actually impressive as an action hero but, yet again, poor Rachel Weisz is relegated to the role of token woman in an action film. All she gets to do is swan about a lab in a white coat looking medical and then run, sometimes screaming, for the rest of the film. Although she does run very prettily, this is not the ideal way to use the female acting talent. There’s no point in mentioning any of the other actors. They all mooch around darkly, doing their damnedest to kill the hero and the female sidekick without stepping out from behind their office desks. There’s quite a lot of collateral damage with several wolves killed and one drone shot down. I hope none of the Talaban in Afghanistan see this and realise how easy it is to shoot down drones. The producers of this film would be aiding the enemy.
So overall The Bourne Legacy is almost completely brainless from start to finish, and although one or two of the action scenes in the first half are well done, the final chase sequence is edited too choppily to make sense and stretched into complete boredom. If you are desperate to escape scorching sun or torrential rain, this will fill your time until the weather calms down. Otherwise, forget it.