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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: The Bourne Legacy

Details here.

This is a sequel to The Bourne Ultimatum in the sense that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a sequel to Hamlet. Set synchronously with Ultimatum (and borrowing footage from it), Legacy tells us what is happening off-stage during the former film as characters mentioned in Ultimatum work through the consequences of its events in a largely independent narrative punctuated by them. Unlike Rosencrantz, Legacy doesn’t do anything intelligent or satisfying in making a drama from what is essentially a footnote to another work, instead inviting us to invest in the main conflicts of Ultimatum while failing to provide any resolution to them. I’m not sure how much the writers expect us to remember of Ultimatum, and this is part of the problem: the references to the other film are disorientating and undermining, as it’s never clear how much we are supposed to infer from them. Worst of all, the villains of Legacy don’t really get brought to book, but you’re left uncertain if you’re meant to infer that this is something that happens in or as a consequence of events in Ultimatum, and is simply an abbreviation, or whether it is a deliberate statement about the power of government conspiracy.

The film has a much slower pace than its predecessors, and for the first twenty minutes I wondered if it was aiming at a Tinker Tailor sort of feel: we see a lot of conversation, and very little action. It does pick up but the relaxed, wide-shot camera work undermines what excitement there is. This is particularly true in the lengthy, formulaic and perfunctory motorcycle chase towards the end of the film, where we are more or less watching a (rather tastefully shot) documentary of three people on bikes rather than experiencing the danger of fleeing an assassin in a crowded city.

The action in the first three films is driven by Bourne’s amnesia, his desire to avenge the death of his lover, and his determination to expose the Blackbriar conspiracy. The action in Legacy is driven by Cross running out of the pills provided him by Operation Outcome (in effect, Blackbriar’s successor), on which he is dependent. Not only does this sit badly with the mythology of the previous films – Bourne is presumably subject to a similar or inferior medical regimen but has no dependence on it – but it makes us feel like we’re watching an addict trying to get his fix rather than a hero. Only half-way through the film do we have the sympathy-provoking reveal that if Cross doesn’t get his dose he will be reduced to a gibbering wreck, a fear with which, with more than an hour of the film left to go, we can easily empathise.

Renner (as Cross) and Weisz (as love interest and side-kick Shearing) carry their roles well and have some real chemistry, and things pick up no end while they are on screen together, which luckily is most of the second half of the film. On the other hand, Edward Norton is woefully unconvincing as the villain, coming across more as a slightly overworked primary school teacher than a sinister retired USAF colonel.

To be fair, Matt Damon’s refusal to take part in Legacy, while wanting to take part in any further sequel, posed the writers a unique challenge to which Legacy’s move of documenting the voices off during Ultimatum is not a bad response. However, that response creates an unfavourable set of constraints under which the film struggles to succeed, and which undermine it to the extent that otherwise forgivable weaknesses become far too noticeable.

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Filed under: Film + TV

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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