The Bourne Legacy - as if…

Between sourcing my research by tripping on peyote while playtesting games old enough to get their own passport, then editing my ramblings before poasting*, not to mention all the stuff that happens off-stage, this editor sometimes needs a break, and last night I watched a movie…

(IMDB 6.8, RT 56% , MC 61%)

Fair warning — for reasons that will soon become apparent, I'm going to spoil the socks off this mother, so if you plan on watching this flick and are keen to preserve your sense of wonder, here's all you need to know — it will be good, while it lasts.


If you somehow managed to never see a Jason Bourne movie, here's what you need to know in addition: Jason Bourne is a super-spy, and a wanted man.

Previously on…

The Bourne Identity (Matt Damon is Jason Bourne)
In episode one, he starts as a bullethole ridden amnesiac who soon discovers he has superhuman skills and more passports than fingers (counting the toes). He subsequently goes on a journey of self-discovery across europe, taking along a cute bohemian hipsterette and riding in her mini, all the while chased by people who don't want him to remember. It sounds like it would suck in all the usual boombastic ways, yet really is both good fun and surprisingly verisimilar and low-key (for Hollywood values thereof).

The Bourne Supremacy (They should have left him alone) 
In the second installment, our now-retired protagonist is framed by the baddies for the death of several CIA agents, sending the CIA after him. Just to cover every base, the baddies still send an assassing after him (as if) with the net result that the girl eats a bullet, thus sending the hero into a revenge frenzy. If it starts to sound like a Liam Neeson movie, it's because it kinda drifts towards that precipice, but manages to avoid the cliff jump by hanging on a solid thread of _noir_ spy intrigue and deviousness (some cool baddies, too).

The Bourne Ultimatum (This summer Jason Bourne comes home)
Part three is arguably where the series comes into its own, our by now soulcrushed hero is dead set on a course of revenge and redemption, with a side of death wish that gives some consistency to his going against all odds, _fear the one who has nothing to lose_-style. It pulls itself above the tarpit of tired cliché'dness through a fairly clever and earnest treatment and some good acting and direction.

…which brings us to The Bourne Legacy (There was never just one).
A hell of a misnomer of a title to boot, as it takes place concurrently, and not after the run of the original trilogy as you'd expect.** 
The legacy part appears to be a case of nobody remembering to change the working title in time and getting stuck with it, or they just didn't care, who knows. What it really tells you is how the production approached the problem when confronted with the absence of both the titular character/actor and the director who fleshed him out.

Back to basics.

The Bourne legacy is a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne, and Tony Gilroy seemingly decided to go back to the original recipe, and do it all over again, with a slight change in flavoring oil, and while keeping the option open to carry on with the original product line in the future.

What it came down to is this : refresh a tired trope with clever treatment.
In this case the tired trope-a-looza is made of : 
  • plentypotent field agent is chased by baddies from a government spook program gone feral, 
  • is not too sure he can trust his own mind, 
  • and takes a cute but-not-Disney-cute brunette along for the ride, 
  • because she's a witness and the baddies want her dead too, now. 
Also part of the deal, srs bzns car chases using economy-class vehicles, some parkour-ish rooftop acrobatics, improvised weapons, travel to exotic-yet-gritty locales, and a face-off with a dragon of similar background and skills to the hero's.

As pointed above, pulling off the Bourne-sans-Bourne trick is all about tweaking the flavour and treatment, and the extra ingredients here are one dash of supersoldier sauce, a pinch of extra trope-metagaming with a lancer-to-hero tour de main, and one part moar peppa ! in the shape of extra-crippling mental condition.

So, does it work ?
Yes but — quite literally — only up to a point.
See why after the jump.


Let's have a spoilerific look at this feature shall we ?

A gift to all the ladies…

It begins with a rather familiar face, albeit one somewhat disbeautified by sprouts of Hollywood-unkempt facial hair, playing Man vs Wild by his lone self around a glacial river for no good reason that we can guess, except maybe training, since a caption helpfully informs us we're looking at some special ops reserved training grounds, in Alaska.

A little more exposition will show us he's hero material, even though he's mostly been featured as sidekick or lancer before, because now we can watch him show off while nobody is around, and take pointless risks for no apparent reason, and yet not get karma slapped for it within minutes. Also, he seems to be popping pills on quite a regular basis, and given his ruggedly stylish pillbox is disguised (not !) as a dogtag, we must assume the chems are service-issue and part of the "special" in special forces.

Meanwhile a girl is a scientist ! with nerd glasses and everything, and she's doing a check-up on muscular black guy n°X (no need to keep tabs, he's the lone black guy in the cast, and he dies faster than a gay D&D pothead in an '80s slasher movie). We're also led to understand her lab is where the "special" forces guys are getting their happy pills from, because pillbox dogtag highlight.

Back to Bear Grylls Jeremy Renner, who's making a racing day of crossing mountains, and seems kinda worried about running out of meds, which may tell us he's not as self-confident as his manly-man demeanor would like to suggest, or he's up to something, or he's a fucking junkie and just can't get enough of the stuff.

Eventually he reaches a cabin, where he meets another pill-popping battledroid and they share rather tense looks oved rehydrated rations until Jermey figures the other one isn't here to end him or anything, he's just another soldier sent on a refresher class about the virtues of keeping it within parameters : he's been sent out there as a penitence for falling in love ! (for serious)

— We don't talk anymore…
— Eat your rice-a-rooni and let me read in peace, 'aight ?
You eat your missile. (5 minutes from now)
The good news is there's a full rack of happy pills stored in the shed next to the cabin, and since they grumpfed in solidarity, they're now pals and Jarmey can have some, too (he lied through his teeth and claimed he lost his pillbox, when really he hid about three days worth of the stuff in his boot, cheeky bastard). Also they send via messenger drone the blood he's been collecting from himself while playing hopping yeti. Sure, why not.

Meanwhile, since we're watching a Jason Bourne movie, we cut to the studios in NYC to report sightings of Matt Damon, if only as a couple of B&W ID shots, which trigger some buggeroo lines from the baddies, as in : 
— Jason Bourne has been sighted in NYC !
— Buggeroo ! Kill everybody remotely related but the essential plot devices, now !
…and back to your regularly scheduled program.

Oh, I guess I should mention the big bad of the week is Ed Norton, which is always cool, even though he seems to be channeling John Cusack with a colon cancer, which is also interesting in a weird sort of way.

— If you don't like my pervy come-ons, just wait a few to watch me go postal on PCP, babe. 

So… Jarmey Grylls and Scientist Gal are now on the exterminate list, which is enough to keep us and them busy for another half hour before they run into each other, at which point some more exposition ensues about the whole pill thing, the conspiracy behind, and why the hell are you still popping greens, Jarmey they're so last season !
Long story short, there are no more pills to source locally, but she could potentially get him a permanent fix, except it's a long shot and a long flight, because they've outsourced good american jobs to the Philippines, and the doomsday lab is in Manila.

Well, he rightfully points, you're screwed without me, because you're a girl and stuff, care to tag along and save my junkie ass by cooking up some self-metabolitic juice for me ?
Sure, she says, presumably because you don't say no to a killerbot flirting with steroid psychosis, unless you're on the phone long distance while he's falling into a lava lake or somesuch.

As they prep for their getaway to exotic Philippines, we learn how truly "special" Jarmey really is, and why he's more than a little miffed at the prospect of going cold turkey on the blue pills. See, he used to be borderline retarded (meaning south of the border), and his apparent plentypotence is only the result of him juicing like mad, so he's understandably concerned with the possibility of morphing into a turnip again.

…meanwhile, other specials drop like flies all around the world as they get refilled with the wrong color of meds.

As you can imagine, our dynamic duo will eventually reach the Manilab (see what I did here ?) where they're supposed to get their hands on samples of a virus to use as delivery device for the permanent fix to Jarmey's pill problem, which fix she stated earlier she ought to be able to cook up (implicitly within a solid day's work, provided the proper tools and materials). 

Things take a first turn into counter-intelligence territory when, faced with a fairly basic pacing problem, the writers decide they're too cool for ellipsis, and since they don't have the time after all to explore the subplot they've been setting up for 30' (which would incidentally help make the characters more relatable and even build up to some actual, you know, acting), they will just magick through the whole thing rather than rewrite the premise that's been carrying a full half-hour of the feature and is the hero's main drive. Understandable, I'm sure, but it's a spectacular miss of an opportunity, and only a sign of worse things to come.

So, 1h36 into the movie, after our hero has been running through a rain of hurt with a single goal in mind : getting a fix because he's got a government-made monkey on his back that threatens to lobotomize him down to not-even-good-for-infantry retardation levels, the girl just jacks a needle up his arm, and voilà : end of story, roll credits.

Except of course, not. 

…hey, what was I saying ? Oh yes, worse things to come… right after the big bads figure (exactly as it happens) that our charming couple is busy juicing up with supersoldier virii, in Manila, therefore ensuring there will be no time wasted agonizing over the evolution of the patient's condition (spoiler : he'll get better overnight) — that's when it goes over the cliff.

— I know you're scared, but look at the bright side : the less sense it all makes, the more likely it is we're the heroes and we're gonna pull through just fine !
— Speak for yourself ! Now that you're all fixed, I seem to recall Franka Potente eating a sniper slug in that other movie…
By now you can tell the writers have had it and just want to go home to play Halo 4, and they're prepared to throw the towel or just spraypaint howevermany pages with crap, whichever gets them off the hook first, so it's an easy guess what's going to happen next.

We are due an epic finale, because somehow, you can't get away with having the protagonist just make it through a hell of a bad week and get the girl, he still has to own and teabag some emblematic baddie, too, and we're entering overtime, where every move must be punctuated by a lot of noise and camera shaking.

So it comes to that, just 5 minutes after the magicking and injecting of the virus-that-make-you-cleverer-by-half :
"Can we talk about LARX ?"
"Who ?" That's the warden from prison break, trying to make ends meet as a rotten govt extra, because his retirement fund went poof in the '07 crisis.
"Oh right…", says Edward Norton, who can't even pretend to care anymore "sure, let's release the krakkinator."
The good news is, there's only about 25' left to go before the titles start rolling, this time for real, so how bad can it get, really ?
Really, that's how bad : really.

No joking, they send after our hero***, not only Manila's finest plus SWAT, but an hat-rabbit assassin who's introduced thusly — and here I feel compelled to quote verbatim, so you get a feel for how close to the ground we're flying :
"LARX is a beta-two stem program : amped mission fidelity, minimized empathy…
…It's Treadstone without the inconsistency, Outcome without the emotional nuance — it's looking very strong for us."
Yes, it's reached the point where you can literally hear the wishful thinking of the writer-director leaking through the dialogs.
Cut to the LARX determinator, an asian-looking dude with an appropriately-clenched jaw (asian, sure : they know kung-fu and they're good at having no human expression, see, plus it's happening in the Philipines and everybody has been really, really white, up to now).

We've definitely reached make-quota territory, so the rest is as predictible as it is out of place in regard to the rest of the movie : some crafty but entirely over the top and unbelievable (relatively) rooftop-then-car-then-bike chase, that ends with:

The girl defeating the Implacable Man
By kicking him. 
Into a pylon. 
From a speeding motorcycle. 
While the hero is passed out. 
…at the handlebar… 
But by then. 
It's clear. 
Cares anymore.

…and then they get rescued by a nice fishing-boat captain, coz' they're cute, she says "please" while twisting her mouth, and also the hero can bribe them with the fake gold-plated Rolex he scored earlier, in a bout of impulse shopping during a conveniently mild stampede of pink-hatted factory worker bees (you guessed it, it happened shortly after the magic-virus point of no return).

Please ?

Titles roll, at long last


OK, that was longer than I thought, as usual, so let's wrap this one for now, and return later to explain how this thing is not an unmitigated carnage, after all, and what can be salvaged from its wreck.



* [Believe it or not, the walls of texts you have to climb are typically only a third to a fifth as high as they were prior to the blue pencil wallop.]

**[Because any set of three consecutive movies nowadays is deemed a trilogy, as that's what it takes to justify a Gold boxed DVD set, or something.]

***[Who's busy sweating his way through a viral fever of _the smartness_, and the hallucinatory memories supposed to make up for the summarily disposed-of subplot I mentioned earlier.]

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