Bourne Again: THE BOURNE LEGACY
by Gene Ching
The success of a film franchise is only somewhat reliant upon the consistency of the actors in the lead roles. After all, not every franchise can have actor stable stability like Harry Potter, and even that series swapped out Dumbledores. For franchises that manage to survive past a trilogy, switching actors is de rigueur. We've had seven Batmans (or Batmen?) in theatrical films, assuming you go all the way back to the two rare movie serials in the 1940s. We've also had seven James Bonds, assuming you count the original very rare 1954 CASINO ROYALE and not the psychedelic 1967 spoof CASINO ROYALE (there are three versions of CASINO ROYALE; the other being the 2006 reboot to the franchise starring Daniel Craig). And we're not even going to trouble ourselves trying to tally all the actors that have portrayed Sherlock Holmes. In the shadow of the Olympics, as the DARK KNIGHT RISES on Batman and the SKYFALLs on Bond, the Bourne franchise returns with its fourth installment.
However, while the franchise returns, Jason Bourne does not. Matt Damon, who played Jason Bourne in the original trilogy, is not reprising the role. Damon refused to make a fourth film without Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two installments. Tony Gilroy takes over the director's chair for LEGACY. And the lead role of superspy Aaron Cross goes to Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner.
The first three films, THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002), THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007), were all based on the novels of Robert Ludlum. Like with the James Bond films, which were initially based (albeit very loosely towards the latter part of the franchise) on the writings of Ian Fleming, the book franchise was taken over by another author after the original author passed away. In both cases, the works of the new authors now exceed the works of the original authors. Fleming wrote twelve novels and two collections of short stories on Bond, as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In his wake, a handful of authors have cranked out new authorized Bond books, including sixteen by John Gardner alone. Several more were written by different authors, including a few novelizations of films that weren't based on any of the books. Ludlum only wrote the initial Bourne trilogy. After his death, Eric Van Lustbader took over the book series and has produced another seven Bourne books, the first one being The Bourne Legacy. Van Lustbader is a prolific author and is probably best known to KungFuMagazine.com readers for his Asian thrillers, most notably his six-book series on ninjas. With both Bond and Bourne, the movie versions have a very different tone than the books. The literary Bond was more used and burnt out while the cinematic Bond is sexier and relies heavily on cool spy toys. The literary Bourne was less prone to physical fights while the cinematic Bourne is more about the flashy violence and staccato action scenes.
In a surprising break from the Van Lustbader novels, which continue to follow the adventures of Jason Bourne, THE BOURNE LEGACY abandons the character. Franchise veterans Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn reprise their respective roles as Dr. Hirsch, Pam Landy, Noah Vosen and Ezra Kramer, although these are mostly as cameos. Renner, who was last seen as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (2012), assumes the new lead character who is only marginally connected to Jason Bourne. The film gives a lot of nods to Bourne and the Treadstone Conspiracy, but these aren't critical to the plot. The references are almost distracting. The only real parallel between Cross and Bourne is that they were both used by covert government agencies and then tossed away only to go rogue. The dilemma of Aaron Cross is really something completely new. LEGACY has a great cast and great cinematography, but it's a weird spin on the Bourne franchise. If they made a movie about 009, would you watch it? How about if 009 was chemically-enhanced to have superhuman skills?
For readers of KungFuMagazine.com, much of the appeal of the Bourne franchise has been the gritty reality-based fight choreography. The first film credits Damon Caro as the martial arts trainer. Caro was credited as assistant fight coordinator on the second film and worked on the third, but was not credited. A student of Guro Dan Inosanto, Caro's other notable martial arts choreography includes SUCKER PUNCH (2011) and NEVER BACK DOWN (2008). The fight coordinator for LEGACY is Jonathan Eusebio. Eusebio is no stranger to the Bourne franchise. He worked on IDENTITY as a martial arts advisor, SUPREMACY as a stunt man, and was the assistant fight choreographer for ULTIMATUM. What's more, he has been a fight choreographer for THE AVENGERS, HAYWIRE (2011), THE EXPENDABLES (2010), and NINJA ASSASSIN (2009). THE BOURNE IDENTITY won accolades from the martial arts community for its brutal hand-to-hand fight scenes, developing as a signature characteristic of the hero. In combat, Bourne is quick and decisive, just as one might imagine a professional assassin might be. The two successive films maintained the same level of ruthlessness; however, the camerawork became choppier so the action was harder to follow. As fight scenes go, this is a cinematic blunder for martial arts fans. Quick, jiggling editing can cover poor fight choreography. Disappointingly, THE BOURNE LEGACY continues with the frenetic camerawork. Stylistically, Aaron Cross relies more on Parkour-like escapes. And in sharp contrast to CASINO ROYALE (2006), which opened with a huge stunt by one of the founders of Parkour, Sebastien Foucan, LEGACY's free-running is all wirework. There's an arch villain that emerges in the latter part of the film that has incredible potential for some serious mano-a-mano (if that went to a sword fight, this film would have been stupendous), but it ends up in a chase scene duel.
Apart from the action sequences, this LEGACY delivers some inspired cinematography. And in all fairness, non-martial arts fans can be easily impressed by the rhythm of the action over the melody of the fight scene, which is why shaky cinematography works for pop culture just like disco beats are more popular than classical symphonies. What's more, the performances are excellent. LEGACY adopts a common cliché for heroes on the run. There's an innocent damsel along for the ride, someone who's hot and holds a key piece of information that the pursuers need. For LEGACY, it's Rachel Weisz. The chemistry between Renner and Weisz works well, especially with their first big chat about what's happening. And Ed Norton is chilling as always as the remorseless head spook. The film is at its best when it is the most distant from the Bourne Trilogy. That attachment begs comparison and LEGACY did not really need to ride on the coattails of the franchise. Standing on its own, it's a decent spy thriller.
It is worthy of note that Damon was actually the second Jason Bourne. Like with CASINO ROYALE, there was another version of THE BOURNE IDENTITY that was made for TV. Richard Chamberlain portrayed Bourne in that 1988 version. Matt Damon has not ruled out returning to the Bourne franchise. Perhaps if that happened, teaming Damon's Bourne and Renner's Cross would prove to be a very exciting installment. Just keep the fight scenes brutal and the camera steady.
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