A legacy that should never have been bourne

While remakes, prequels and sequels have almost always unashamedly represented the cinematic equivalent of a ‘cashing-in’ mentality, they at least tended to be the exception rather than the rule, and were often based on a tangible awareness that the original had been ground-breaking or had captured the imagination of a generation. In recent years however, Hollywood seems to have blindly escalated this trend to such an extent that one wonders if they have abandoned the idea of original storytelling altogether, retraining their writers to use nothing else on a keyboard other than copy and paste, and replacing their creative energy with marketing executives and product designers, employed solely to repackage back catalogues and invent new and creative ways of selling reworkings so we don’t know we’re being had.  Enter the world of legacies, reduxes, reloads, director’s cuts, final cuts, costume designer’s cuts, and honestly-the-last-cut-ever cuts.

Of course the impending threat of a lucrative revenue stream drying up is a worrying thing for a studio primarily concerned with the bottom line, and so it was no great shock to hear that this latest incarnation was imminent. Enter The Bourne Legacy, an ABBA-inspired Björn-again copycat band of a film, without Matt Damon as Bourne, without Bourne himself, and without Robert Ludlum providing the source material. Crucially though, and this is the thinly-veiled trickery of selling to a semi-conscious populous with low expectations, the branding machine has been bombarding us with the Bourne tag − the Bourne trilogy is screening this week on Danish television − and Renner scuttling across rooftops with his Bourne-backpack and haircut could easily be mistaken for Damon if you suspend your disbelief long enough, squint hard enough and want it badly enough. Bourne is also regularly referred to in photos and conversations as the plot clumsily links to The Bourne Ultimatum (that ten-year-old passport photo might well have the second most screen-time after Renner himself). As for the rest of the cast from the trilogy – Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen – they simply flitter across the screen with unseemly haste at regular intervals, just to keep the illusion going a little while longer.

This is not to say that Renner is unworthy of the role, as he does well enough portraying another haunted operative who, like Bourne, is as much a victim of the top level dastardly deeds as a covert super-agent. He is ruthless, rugged and restless, fighting personal demons as well as those thrown at him by Uncle Sam. Weisz also makes for a fine new sidekick as a scientist turned accidental action hero, while Norton is suitably snarly as a ruthless CIA boss out to eradicate the entire band of dysfunctional man-machines. It is thus the old hand that causes the problems in this somewhat floundering instalment. Series screenwriter Tony Gilroy supplants Paul Greengrass as director, and the loss of momentum is palpable. Gilroy is a fine writer, but without the discipline of an action veteran like Greengrass to rein him in, he too often indulges his weakness to over-pontificate.

It is hard to think of another franchise entry that works this hard to justify its own existence. The irony of course, is that a decent action film is justified by decent action, and The Bourne Legacy simply does not deliver on what should be its primary goal (other than raking it in at the box office – which it has certainly done). It has been rumoured that this may well just be a link between the previous instalments to a sequel in which Damon’s Bourne will himself return, but despite that possibility, this particular link is as missing as it gets.

The Bourne Legacy (11)
Dir: Tony Gilroy; US action, 2012, 135 mins; Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Stacey Keach
Premieres August 16
Playing nationwide