THE movie business has created some tough double acts to follow. Spielberg and Lucas. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Lassie and Roddy McDowall.
To that list can be added Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon. Between them, the British director and the American actor created two of the best action movies of the new century in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. (The first film, The Bourne Identity, also starring Damon but directed by Doug Liman, was pretty nifty on its feet too.)
Now Tony Gilroy, who provided the screenplays for all three Bournes, is back to both write and direct a film that is officially titled The Bourne Legacy, but which might as well be called The Bourne Car Boot Sale. Like keen collectors of Bourne memorabilia, Gilroy and his team, including a new leading man in the form of Jeremy Renner, have a good old rummage through the old stuff in the hope of coming up with something shiny and new.
That they fall short is in part due to the film's lack of action. Something of a problem that, in an action film. There is also a timidity at work here, as though everyone is unsure if they should be treading on such hallowed ground.
It is not entirely a bust, though. Although the story is slow, scrappy, confused and confusing, Renner has enough charisma to just about carry the movie through and make you want to see what he might do next. If and when the Bourne franchise really is reborn as an entirely new creation, Gilroy and Renner might have something interesting on their hands.
Damon and Greengrass ended 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum with a teaser. Bourne, the product of a CIA programme to create the ultimate super assassin, had gone head first into the East River in New York, fate officially unknown. The Bourne Legacy starts with another experimental agent, Aaron Cross (Renner), diving into the icy depths of an Alaskan stream while on a training mission.
It is the first of many occasions when Gilroy attempts to fit the two films together. Elsewhere, scenes from Ultimatum find their way into Legacy as a way of explaining how we got to this point. It is like watching two locomotives being coupled together, with a lot of banging and groaning going on as the parts merge.
Eventually, it is established that the balloon has gone up post Bourne diving into the brink. The programme has been compromised and someone has to come in and sort out the mess. That someone is retired colonel Eric Byer, played by Ed Norton on narrowed-eyes, pursed-lips, serious bunny form. It is Byer's job to keep calm while everyone else, including Stacy Keach's programme chief, frets themselves into a snarling lather in darkened rooms filled with computer screens and live video feeds.
The hunt is on, as is traditional in Bourne films, but for the love of parkour and chases across the rooftops it takes an age to get going. A whole hour is spent setting up the tale, establishing Cross as a character, and adding another engine to the locomotive in the shape of Rachel Weisz as a doctor involved in supplying the super agents with the super medication they require.
Just when you begin to wonder if anyone will ever do anything in this movie besides look fretful, the action begins, only to stop again, then start, then go at it intermittently till the end credits when everything is thrown into the mix. Save for the odd interlude to allow for some introspection on the part of Bourne, the Damon- Greengrass films hit the ground running and didn't stop. There was a sense of irresistible momentum, something lacking in Legacy.
Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town), gives the part his all, though. Together with Weisz and Norton, he demonstrates how good actors, through force of personality, can haul a film to its conclusion and keep the audience watching. They compliment each other nicely –- the pug-faced Renner with his affable, Everyman manner, the apparently frail yet steely Weisz, and the enigmatic Norton. Even when the cast are given clunkers of lines to say, "You're a warrior" being one, they keep those actorly heads high.
If it seems unfair to compare Legacy to what has gone before it is only fair to point out that Gilroy and his script do it first and do it often thereafter. The film wants to build on the Bourne story – it is called Legacy after all – but no-one seems sure what to put in its place.
It's rather like that Olympics "legacy" every armchair expert and his dog is banging on about. Gilroy's film wants to sound the Bourne business, is desperate to look the Bourne business, but when it comes to doing the Bourne business, Greengrass and Damon style, it has a few more leaps to go.
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