Jeremy Renner is establishing himself as a strong action-oriented presence relatively late in life. When he did S.W.A.T. (2003) he was about 32. I said relatively. It wasn’t exactly an instant classic and didn’t exactly do his name any good. But five years later, he did The Hurt Locker (2008) and found himself on the map–at least mine. He followed that up with another solid outing (The Town (2010)) and three big-budget movies, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), The Avengers (2012), and, now, The Bourne Legacy (2012). In all but The Avengers, where he plays the driven but uninteresting Hawkeye, he’s a more human hero. He laughs and seems to know that everything around him is a little off-the-wall.
Aaron Cross (Renner) dives into frigid Alaska waters to pick something up. He’s on a training mission that includes walking a long way over snow and ice and cliffs and stuff to get to another place. Meanwhile, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is causing serious trouble for his various enemies in the CIA. This includes CIA Director Kramer (Scott Glenn), the guy with a position I don’t really understand (Stacy Keach), the head of the National Research Assay Group, Byer (Edward Norton)–did we ever get his name in the movie?– and there’s that other guy (David Strathairn) and the creepy doctor guy from The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) (Albert Finney). Because Bourne is screwing things up, Byer sees the writing on the wall before anyone else and decides to “burn the project to the ground.” This project, we find out, is Outcome which uses viral something or other to do genetic stuff to make people run faster, jump higher, and think quicker. Is it the shoes? No, it’s a virus. Burn they do and this includes the medical researchers the hottest of which is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who somehow survives an attack on the office. Cross finds her to get answers for himself and re-up on some of those sweet sweet meds the project is based upon. Byer is in pursuit using legions of data and support staff to hunt them down. He’s also got a Thai linen-clad terminator in his back pocket.
This is where my snarkiness ends because the description of the movie is far sillier than the movie actually plays. Yes, the enemy list is long, complicated, and basically unexplained, but that’s not really that important. What do I care what the command structure is–goodies and baddies, now lets punch some guards in the throat! The Gilroys–writer/director Tony Gilroy and just writer Dan Gilroy–locked into The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum and creates a corollary in The Bourne Legacy. However, the filming isn’t done exclusively from the top of a paint shaker, so that technique, at least, has been left behind (Bravo!).
While I’m on direction, I’ll add a touch that I really liked. About three or more times, the action is continued in the background. Example. A guy is chasing Cross and Shearing through Manilla. The guy and Cross spot one another and the guy starts running across more roofs. Cut to Cross and Shearing taking some evasive maneuvers and, in the far background, a guy jumps from a rooftop over to some erector set edifice and starts to climb down. Cut to that guy climbing down the erector set. It’s a sort of heavy-duty continuity device that keeps two vectors of action in sight and mind. A more typical edit of that scene would follow both parties one after the other–Where is Guy A, where is Guy B? But Gilroy’s way is more elegant and less choppy. I liked it.
That follows through to the characters–especially Cross. As I said at the first, Renner is a different kind of action hero. He’s got serious muscles, but he’s more common. Bruce Willis was snarky and had a one-liner for the occassion, but Renner is the straight man. Cross has the super skills–there’s a nice detail where Cross hears something before a wolf does–but he’s constantly afraid of losing them because his meds are running out. That’s probably the best part of the story. It sets this movie apart from its predecessors and makes it a deeper, more thoughtful film. Sure, a trap is set since the CIA is the enemy–which I usually don’t like–but it’s all the shadowy side without many (if any) views of the crest. So it’s as much CIA as IMF (Impossible Mission Force–dumbest name ever).
The Gilroys aren’t always perfect. Their use of the flashback is not as well placed or paced. And there are just too many of them. I’m not positive whether it would have worked better, but an alternative would have been to start the movie with Cross from his story’s beginning (rather than the middle of Bourne’s) and really do the origin story. That would have been a rather different movie and may not have fit into two and a quarter hours. On the other hand, they probably benefited from the short form back-story, relying on simple, line-item premises instead of building the earlier character up into a whole being. You can’t argue with results.
The movie also trips up a bit, upon reflection, in the ending. Byer had been hunting Cross and Shearing hard for days with technical brilliance and then seems to just stop and a slice of (albeit mild) cheese descends on the scene. Clearly, a sequel is in the offing, but even that needed a little hanger. Instead, Byer fades away without any mention of further pursuit. Perhaps they feared that it would look too cynical to play out a cliched “Next time, Cross, you’re mine!” Critics (and people) seem to roll their eyes for some reason when a sequel is promised. I don’t get that. If you liked the movie, then a sequel is the promise of more like it, if it sucked you know not to see the follow-up. That said, there are too many crappy sequels running on TNT to allow for much optimism. Let’s call it even, then.
One more word on the cast. They’re quite great. The movie is vastly improved by Norton being the main bad guy and I think Renner is great. Weisz could have done with some bulking up in the bravery arena, but she was solid.
I liked it.