Dear The Bourne Legacy,
There comes a point early in your story where a character describes an escalating situation as being an “infection” that need to be cut out to save a “patient.” Looking back on our time together, as well as my time with many other movies in the past few years, I can’t help but feel as though this is an increasingly apt analogy. The “patient” in this case would be the art of single-serving narrative completeness in modern studio filmmaking. The “infection” would be serialized franchise nonsense of the kind that runs deep into the bones of your story and ends up crippling you as a film.
That was kind of a rough way to begin, so let me backpedal a moment before driving the knife further. On a general, surface level you are a fine film. Jeremy Renner is believable as the capable but sometimes-vulnerable super soldier known as Aaron Cross (which is right up there with “Tobin Frost” as far as this year’s awesome action names go). At his side is a Rachel Weisz as Dr. Shearing, one of the doctors who had been tasked with creating the gene therapy drugs responsible for Cross’s extra-human abilities in the field. At their heels is a shadowy organization headed by Edward Norton that wants to exterminate every aspect of the Outcome program Cross and Shearing were apart of due to the escalating situation caused by Jason Bourne.
When the bullets are flying and the chase is on, all of this madness works well. There’s a kinetic direction at work here, and the actors are damn good at what they do. The problem comes whenever the pace slows down and we are forced to try to meet your story on a character level. We are given a smattering of flashbacks and vague allusions to character backstories that mean nothing in a larger context. In most cases, they actually cause what little thematic impact the story could have to sink like a stone.
For instance, we learn a few things about Cross and about the program that could lead to larger questions about our military industrial complex, the War on Terror, and the state of modern military recruiting. But none of them are ever explored or fleshed-out with enough information to make them lift off. The aspects of the story that could have beefed up these vague wisps of ideas are left on the cutting room floor. Or, worse, they are being held in reserve for an assumed sequel.
And here is where my opening paragraph to you comes into play. We never get to learn who Aaron Cross was before he became an Outcome Agent outside of two or three single lines of dialogue. But we never see him, we never understand the gap between who he was and who he has become, so when the question of him returning to his previous state comes up, there is no weight of any kind outside of the spoken weight of other characters. Given the deluge of dialogue, however, all of this means very little in the grand scheme of your story as a whole.
So, are the two hours we spent together a complete waste? No, not precisely. I was amused and entertained at slight and varying intervals. However, as the credits began to roll and I stepped back out into the light, I realized you lacked a third, and perhaps even second act. You weren’t trying to tell me a story. You were trying to sell me on a franchise, and honestly, I was sold on you and your story by your trailers, and you wasted my time acting like a trailer for sequels promised but as of yet not committed to.
The next time, if there is a next time, I’d appreciate you finishing your story before rolling out that Moby tune.
You can’t stick the landing if you don’t land,
Brian J. Roan