Re-envisioning the texture of a major action franchise is always a difficulty especially if its basis comes from the juxtaposing ideas of a book. While the initial vapidity of the “Bourne” films played with competent but overindulgent strings to Matt Damon’s earlier “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, many of those films seemed like a cop out because they derailed from the books themselves whose narrative flow allowed for a sense of loss that really didn’t play because Bourne was such a blank slate who happened to have these abilities.
What allows the new “Bourne Legacy” to shine in many points is because it allows for that framework as a backdrop and fashions a new story to show a bigger picture. Interestingly enough, what causes that to happen is the aspect of the screenwriter Tony Gilroy (of “Michael Clayton” fame but also screenwriter of all the previous “Bourne” films). The paradox of that in relation to the first paragraph is sound but, by allowing him to direct his own screenplay, much of the exposition written in the right way is left in. This film feels more like a novel in its progression than the previous incarnations. Granted there are some key action scenes (most notably the end) but for the most part (like “Michael Clayton” which he also directed), it is a thinking man’s dialogue-driven piece. However, what makes this work, which might be problematic for other actors, is that Jeremy Renner is a character actor at heart who has been given the opportunity after “The Hurt Locker” to play a leading character and his presence allows him to almost disappear at times in the background while still maintaining adequate poise and effect. Like Daniel Craig, who had a similar ascension, he is not a classically handsome actor, which makes him all the more interesting but also allows you not to project anything on him (think if you will of William H. Macy who can embody different people without taking on the qualities as his own). While some of the conjecture of why Renner’s character Aaron does what he does, balances on the inane at times (which made some laugh in the audience), its logic is sound for the most part. Those few moments can be overlooked because of the forward momentum of the picture.
Edward Norton provides an energetic foil as a guy that is neither good nor bad, simply containing a situation and the dialogue balances perfectly for someone of his intellect. The viral conditioning of Renner’s character also allows for something at stake for him as well. The delivery mechanism is a little shaky but again, not enough to derail it. Rachel Weisz (ironically now the wife of Daniel Craig in real life) returns to franchise elements after famously leaving Universal’s “Mummy”. This character is quite visceral and intelligent but ultimately towards the end becomes a “damsel” (especially in the ending sequence) which cannot be helped. Her research cruxes exactly what Renner’s character must solve. At times, the dialogue she has is at the very high end in terms of process which likely will go over most moviegoers heads, like the texture of stereo instructions. However, it does propel the story.
The bigger narrative comes as a plot point in the shutdown of the program the original character “Bourne” was part of. The use visually (and allowance) of Damon’s character makes for a connection without needing physically to have the actor there. All small things, like the inclusion of small scenes with Joan Allen and Albert Finney as hold overs from the previous films, keeps you in the world. In many ways, “Bourne Legacy” is a lower res version of the previous films yet on an intellectual level, at times, operates higher because of the texture of its cast and, very honestly, the man behind the wheel: Gilroy. While the ending very egregiously points to more (almost interrupting mid-story), its intent and focus works allowing for a film that is not the same or a reboot but a resurrection into the same world with new possibilities.