A Reel Deal Film Review

By Tyler Malone

July/August 2012

Reel Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Hollywood is never content just letting a good thing be. There are so few big movies these days that aren’t forced to support or endure sequels, spin-offs, and remakes. Even less in number are the franchises allowed to bow out gracefully. Rarely do they finish on a high note, rarely are they allowed to run their natural course and come to an honorable end. Instead, they’re so often stretched out for as long as possible, until they’ve been run into the ground, and any of the magic of the original has been all but extinguished. Sequels are so prominent, in fact, that of the ten top grossing films of last year, nine were sequels. The only one that wasn’t a sequel–the horrible Smurfs film–was based on the Hanna-Barbera animated series of the 1980s. Obviously original ideas are about as rare in Hollywood as in-check egos.

I’m not anti-sequel though. I think we could use less of them–much, much less of them–but they’re not always a bad idea. In fact, some sequels are better than their predecessors. The first example that comes to mind is The Dark Knight, which is almost unanimously seen as an improvement on the already phenomenal first film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. A lot of superhero franchises actually follow this pattern. Because the first movie is so focused on the hero’s origin story, it’s usually in the second film that the franchise reaches its peak (think of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises). And it’s not just in superhero franchises where this happens: I would argue that The Empire Strikes Back betters Star Wars, and that Terminator 2 is an improvement on the original Terminator. The second Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan, is also universally seen as the best of that franchise (at least until the reboot, certainly). I’ve never quite been sure why but almost always the third film of a series fails miserably (once again think of the Spider-Man, X-Men and Terminator franchises). Even The Godfather III, which isn’t a bad film, pales in comparison to the original two. The Bourne franchise was an exception to the rule in that it continually got better with each successive movie: the first (The Bourne Identity) was a great film, the second (The Bourne Supremacy) improved the formula and raised the stakes, and then somehow the third (The Bourne Ultimatum) raised the bar even higher, becoming in the process near-perfect.

I recently asked on social media whether the Bourne franchise was the only franchise where the third movie was the best. (I secretly knew of two others that I’d argue had a best film in the third installment: Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise, but I doubted anyone would think of Leone’s westerns and most people don’t agree with my assessment of the Indy films.) I only received two legitimate responses: Toy Story 3 (which, though I loved, I wouldn’t call it the best of the series) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Though I agree that Revenge of the Sith is the best of Lucas’s three Star Wars prequels, all three of the prequels speak to my point. They’re entirely superfluous. They remind us that Hollywood can’t let anything be: if there’s a cash cow, they’ll milk it til the utters are so ulcerated no more milk can be produced. This is my problem with The Bourne Legacy. Even though it is arguably a pretty damn good action film, it feels as superfluous as those Star Wars prequels. It leaves me asking: Why?

I absolutely loved that the trajectory of the Bourne films was up and up and up: continual improvement (so rare). The franchise felt unique in its ability to naturally up the ante, without feeling forced or venturing into the absurd. The Bourne Legacy, the first Bourne film without Jason Bourne, definitely raises the stakes, but it can’t manage it without feeling forced and somewhat absurd. The film veers into some science fiction territory, and though it tries–oh, how it tries!–to tack itself onto, and feel a part of, the world of the original trilogy, it just doesn’t feel right. The spark is gone.

Jeremy Renner is fine, but he’s no Matt Damon. Yet it’s not the acting that’s the problem. Not only does Renner put in a decent performance, but two of my favorite actors working today, Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz, are about as good as they can be in the roles they are given. The writing and directing aren’t really the problem either. The main problem is that the film is either too tied to the original Bourne films or not tied to them enough. If you look at the plot of the film, it didn’t even really need the Jason Bourne connection. The same exact film could have been made about secret CIA programs and genetically altered super-spies without any mention of Jason Bourne or Treadstone or Blackbriar. In fact, I would probably have liked it more had the connection not been there, because I wouldn’t have been comparing it to the superb original trilogy, and I would have been completely forgiving of the science fiction elements because they wouldn’t have felt so out of place. The science fiction elements weren’t awful in and of themselves, they were fine, but the brilliance of the Bourne franchise was that Jason Bourne was just a man, well-trained and exceptional, but just a man. He’s no superhero. In The Bourne Legacy, Jeremy Renner’s character has more “superpowers” than Renner’s Avengers character Hawkeye–and that’s actually a superhero movie! But if they absolutely needed this film to be a part of the Bourne series for any other reason than the obvious (that it will make more money as part of an established franchise), they really needed to have Jason Bourne in it in a greater capacity. Bourne is certainly mentioned a lot, and is at the periphery of the events of the film, but he just doesn’t feel essential to the story: certainly not central enough to be a part of the film’s title.

When all’s said and done though, I’ll admit that The Bourne Legacy kept me entertained throughout. I never looked down at my watch, it never hit a lull. I think without Matt Damon’s involvement, it’s about as good a Bourne movie as one can expect. But did we actually need a Damon-less Bourne film? I personally don’t think so. I would have been content if it had ended on the high note of The Bourne Ultimatum, which was one of the few near-perfect blockbusters in recent history.

The Bourne Legacy is a film directed by Tony Gilroy, written by Tony and Dan Gilroy, and based upon characters created by Robert Ludlum. It stars Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, and Edward Norton. An expansion of the universe from Robert Ludlum’s novels, centered on a new hero whose stakes have been triggered by the events of the previous three films.


Official Site: The Bourne Legacy

IMDb: The Bourne Legacy

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Design by Jillian Mercado


Film Still from The Bourne Legacy, Photography Courtesy of Universal Pictures

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