Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Bourne Legacy - a review

Yes, I know this is late. I know everyone and her sister has either already seen this or chosen to let it pass them by, but after my third viewing I feel there is something more to this film than a quick scan. Oh yes, dear reader - it’s about to be subjected to one of my traditional 3 heading reviews. Brace yourselves - this one’s a never-ending study in over-thinking and over-analysing. Or maybe the film is just deeper than your average action flick.

We’ll find out as we play Review the Movie!

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for The Bourne Legacy!


First off, we have how it all slots right into the events of the original three Bourne movies. It’s cleverly interspersed with mentions, occurrences, themes of the Matt Damon trilogy. Of course everything’s connected - it’s called The Bourne Legacy after all; everything that happened was because of everything Jason Bourne set in motion. Was I bothered that Jason himself was not in the movie? Not at all. I knew before I bought the cinema ticket that it was a LEGACY, not a team-up or spin-off with the hero popping in to pass the torch to the new bloke. I neither expected nor required Jason to appear.

We had a few unexpected camera shots that, for me, spoke volumes on connectivity. In the same way that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells the story of those around the book to tell the story of the book itself, so The Bourne Legacy tells the story of those around Aaron Cross to tell the story of his hand. Yes, it’s all about his hand. See for yourself; it’s out in the cold in Alaska, it’s taking blood samples for his programme kit up a mountain - and then the fun starts. We see it injured in a flashback, and later his doctor is holding it and saying it’s healed well. Later he’s on a plane and he rubs the old injury - but he’s looking at the now rescued / rescuing doctor across the plane as he does it. Is he thinking about her and the thirteen times she’s examined him and touched that hand? Later she’s about to viral him off the last of his medication and he uses the hand to hold hers, to reassure her that she’s doing the right thing. Still later she needs moral support on the back of a motorbike and it’s his hand she grips. After they shed the bike she hangs onto his hand like a lifeline - but who is saving who? His hand started out as an appendage used for violence and dirty deeds and turned into a missionary of aid and comfort.

And speaking of the lovely doctor, this really is a love story for people who don’t like love stories; a relationship built upon the fact that she knows her medical shit and isn’t afraid to use it, and he respects and perhaps likes her personality because of that fact. (And the fact that she has a handful of PhDs and Masters and all sorts of top-level clearance doing high-end scientifical stuff without ever having been enhanced as he was.) If she'd been a complete bitch during his medical check-ups, or gone to pieces and flailed like a girl when the CIA tried to kill her in her kitchen, he might not have been so ready to tolerate her. Her character reacted productively to the situations she was forced into, something he perhaps appreciated. He understands she’s freaked out but also understands she’s prepared to do something about it. It looks like it starts out as doctor-patient (or rather doctor-subject) professionalism; no wasted words just business, which is maybe why they work well together. During all the shit going down, she’s still got the wherewithal to keep hold of her gun and run for a phone. It’s like he just expects her to get over it but when she does, he understands how much it must have taken to do just that. As the dust settles he makes an attempt to soothe but the point he’s making is also a professional one; she has to accept a new identity and never associate with her old one. She continues her old role as doctor and healer, but is it more out of a sense of guilt now, or a healer’s natural instinct? She’s not exactly getting paid any more. On the subject of a doctor-patient bent to it all - he’s treated her like a human being, saved her from getting shot by the CIA in her house, demanded she take him to his ‘chems’, got them across a few continents and into a secure facility, and in all that time he’s made no (further) attempt to chat her up - if that was even his intent during that examination we get through flashbacks.
In Manila she’s got him stripped down to his undercrackers and all she can think about is whatever pain relievers she can get her hands on before he wakes up. Either she’s trying to make up for all the bad things her medical research caused, or she feels for the poor bloke. Again, is it just a healer’s instinct, or the first time she’s had to deal with the results of her science in her face? And there was the small matter of him trying to make her take all the money from his rucksack, and a few blank passports, and run and hide for the rest of her life. Is he putting her safety over however much he might like her? Or is he still sore over the fact that he made at least one attempt to chat her up in her examination room, but when they’re on the run she reveals that she doesn’t even know his name, and therefore he never made an impression on her? Except we know he did make an impression, however she took it, because it’s her flashback in which we see it happen.


Marta Shearing started out as someone who must have known what the people on the programme were used for but didn’t care - at least, not enough to stop doing it. Did she refer to them all as numbers to keep it scientific, so she could compartmentalise what she knew? When she’s made a target because of her science, she changes. She still stands by it, but now it doesn’t seem to be with pride. She still knows her shit and she’s not shy about backing that claim up, something I think perhaps Aaron understands.

Aaron himself killed in his job and it bothered him (Byer [Edward Norton]’s flashback, as he instructs him on the way of a sin-eater) and he’s slowly been getting real tired of CIA shit - but when they try to kill him it’s over and he’s certainly not crying over that. He adapts, he rolls with it, in a way that ensures his continued survival and removes any connection to the programme.
During Marta’s flashback we seem him ask her what she thinks they do out there in the field. It’s apparent he likes her but his youth-like attempt to hit on her fails spectacularly. Does she pretend not to notice, or is she really truthful about not wanting to be caught fraternising, however insignificantly, on camera? He must know a medical check-up is not the best place to try flirting with the doctor performing a professional examination, but then he doesn’t see her otherwise, and if not now, then when? Personality point one. She tells him to count backwards from one hundred - he does it in Russian. But is it to irk, or to make himself memorable, or just because using English would have been boring? Personality point two. There are scenes where he seems to be hoarding what medication he has and trying to score more, especially when he meets Outcome #3 in the hut in Alaska. #3 doesn't make him write up a report but says he’ll just give him programme medication. Is this because he does the same and thinks #5 - Aaron - is also doing it? Preparing? Planning? Or paranoid he’ll be without programme meds and degenerate into what he used to be? Personality point three. He’s already so much more than he was when he first joined the programme, but perhaps he has exceeded what the programme was meant to achieve and is now planning in ways they had not planned for - because he’s outgrown them as an outfit. So who was he before he was this ├╝ber human?

Kenneth Kitsom appeared to have been a bloke who joined the army because he would have peers, camaraderie, a family of sorts (he mentions he came from ‘a home’), and because he really didn’t seem to understand what else he could do. As Aaron, he told Marta that the man enlisting him in the US Army added a whopping twelve points to his IQ to get him in. This was an odd thing for Aaron to say; the US Army does not use an IQ test - but, that said, it must record it at enrolment. The minimum is said to be ‘around eighty-five points’. Which means he was originally operating at about seventy-three; the Binet Scale classifies an IQ score of seventy to seventy-nine as borderline intelligence deficiency or, nowadays, possessing a ‘mild disability’. No wonder Kenneth really wanted to stay at the facility. (The test the US Army actually uses is more for adaptability and aptitude for military work.) Whatever the testing process was called and how he was treated, Kenneth Kitsom went from a simple, optimistic, helpful sort who couldn’t hope to grasp the complexities of the programme, to Aaron Cross, someone capable of instant judgement calls and James Bond thinking-on-his-feet out in the field. He gained probably fifty IQ points but he lost a lot. One thing he appears to have kept is his need to reach out to people and learn about them, befriend them, have a conversation with a fellow citizen of the Earth. It doesn’t have to be a doctor, or another Outcome agent - I get the feeling it could be a Russian taxi driver, a Saudi businessman, a Thai street vendor, the woman carrying her shopping home. The way his personality comes across as he questions others around him makes me think he simply wants to explore, to find some common ground with someone, anyone, now that he has the vocabulary and extra cognitive ability to do so. After all, what was the programme for if not to make him better than he was? Still emotionally vulnerable but in charge, still that same cheerful, helpful soul - when he meets Outcome #3 he tries to make friends, albeit in a way that gets him more answers, and he seems to hedging his bets in case #3 is actually supposed to be evaluating or killing him. “Aren’t we programmed to stick our noses in?” he asks. But is he referring to people on the programme or humans in general? He’s become so much more than he was. Smarter, yes. Faster at thinking and able to see the bigger picture, certainly. But he’s still the lonely man he was before he was put on the programme, still the loner wanting to connect with someone. And if it could be with someone not trying to kill him? Even better.


Which is why the end was such a waste. The whole motorbike chase was great, but why not show him being not physically or mentally superior but winning due to the edge he had that the LARX agent after him didn’t: empathy. The reason he wanted to give Marta his money and a passport and let her run because she’d be safer without him, why he could pass himself off as a divorcee on his way to his kid’s little league game, why he knew that telling the gate guard to check his credentials would make the guard trust him enough to let him through. There was no one-on-one between him and the LARX agent to show he was superior. I get that Marta and Aaron relied on each other to survive no matter their other feelings. I get that meant Marta being smart enough and resourceful enough to get them onto the fishing boat at the end, probably being the one to pay the captain with the gold watch Aaron took from the Aussie in charge of the chemical plant. But that could still have happened after a showdown between Aaron and the LARX agent. Show him winning because he was naturally superior, that even after all the physical and mental enhancements, it was down to his natural, human sense of empathy or even sympathy that got him a win. That would have made the film perfect in my world; he wins because of the man he is, not because of, but despite all his upgrades. Yes, then he would need help fleeing the scene, and Marta being pretty quick on the uptake herself, she could have seen to that. Use their strengths to achieve a win, not just a lucky bike crash and a fishing boat in the right place at the right time.

A word or few hundred has to be said about the actors in this tale. Back-up faces and support characters were marvellous; Edward Norton never disappoints, but even characters that were peripheral seemed real. The way the film came over was very down-to-Earth, very lacking in hype and sensationalism.

Rachel Weisz was brilliant; she comes across as someone who knows what she’s doing, but when the shit hits the fan she has a rough idea of what to do next. Not just a pretty face, she made her character share the heavy lifting in the importance stakes and her performance was excellent. On a side note, it was refreshing for the female lead to be the one to save the day right at the end - by being female. Yes, I liked that idea.

Jeremy Renner suited the film exactly; low-key and understated, I think he made a perfect defector from a Jason Bourne programme. Any actor can do action stunts and run around being the hero, but how many could have brought us Kenneth Kitsom in a way that made you feel something for him with so few lines said? How many could get you on their side without having a million lines of clumsy exposition or heroic one-liners? Some scenes stood out for me; Edward Norton being bloody good at his acting job and telling Renner about sin-eaters (at one point I thought Byer was going to make Aaron Cross cry), when Aaron is explaining to Marta why he has to stay enhanced (both actors did a wonderful job here; Rachel Weisz’s face as Marta understands Aaron is not doing it for the reasons she may have suspected is perfect), when Aaron is trying to be nice to Marta in the examination room (a completely different side to Kenneth or even Aaron), when Aaron tries to give Marta money to leave him and make a break for it (both actors won this one). There are many more, which means I will be watching this again. Not sure if I’ll bother seeing Skyfall again (yes, it was pretty good. No, not as good as Casino Royale, for me), but The Bourne Legacy is definitely going on my blu-ray shelf.

Wow. I did warn it would be long. Anyway, that’s pretty much all the review that’s fit to print.
Peach and lube, everyone; peach and lube.


Anonymous said...

Wow you put a lot of thought into that review. Unfortunately for me it was just another action flick, it just didn't stand out that much, which is sad because it could've if they had given it your ending. I think it had potential but nothing came out of it.
Oh and I don't know if you've noticed but when he's counting backwards from 100, the reason why he does it in russian is probably because he wants to cover the fact that he just called her beautiful. You know, he says in russian "you're beautiful, 99, 98...". I thought that was kind of sweet :)


Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful review! I mean really, I am blown away. I've heard my favorite actor and my favorite Bourne movie (which isn't saying much because I fairly suffered through the first three), bashed 8 ways from Tuesday. It is truly refreshing to find someone who actually appreciates this movie for all of its amazing points.
I do disagree about the ending, however. I liked the fact that it wasn't Cross, but instead Marta who saved them both. Marta, without any enhancements or advanced training, was able to pull herself together enough to fend off LARX and then crash the bike in a manner that didn't result in either of their deaths. The didn't even break any bones, if the scenes on the boat were anything to go by. Definintely their upperbodies were pretty well intact.
I think that this made the ending a little more special to my because in the end, it wasn't either of the super enhanced science experiments who finsihed the job. It was an untrained, untested civilian who just wanted this crazy asshole to leave her and the only friend she had left, the hell alone. I think that is far better than an unrealistic "I'm the better man and the power of love will save me against you, you unemotional barbarian."
Now, I do have a question. During the scene where Cross was sick in the bed while he was viralling off, I believe the scene was longer than anything I can find now. In this extension, after Aaron tries to get Marta to run, she says that while she can't run or hide or kick ass like him, she sure as hell can nurse him though this flu and that is exactly what she intends to do. Or something to that extent. Do you ever remember something like that and do you know where I could find it? Because I am very very very attached to that scene and would love to be able to watch it again.
Thanks so much for your fantastic review!!!

Scout said...

When Cross and Byers have the sin eater discussion, there is a pause and it sounds like Cross says "Love you" to Byers? Who pauses looking in Cross's eyes, then looks at him and says "stitch that up". It is not included in the dialogue from the movies quotes, but he definitely says something and it sounds like "love you".

Anonymous said...

I realise this review is old, but I just watched the Bourne Legacy for the first time, and I really agree with your review of all of it! Great job.
I saw the end of the motorcycle chase a different way; Marta uses the warrior skills Aaron has been encouraging in her, to save them both BUT she wouldn't have been there with him, defending him, if he hadn't shown her the empathy and character that LARX lacks. So, in a way, his empathy DID save them! (Perhaps I'm reaching...) But anyway, good review!

Mandy Williams said...

Just found your review, it's nice to see someone else appreciating this movie, personally it's my favorite. I have to say, with regard to the ending, I think they actually did something quite clever there, that some may have missed. The whole time, it's been Aaron against everyone: the CIA, the police, etc. By the time LARX shows up, of course you're focused on Aaron, when in actuality it's Marta who takes him out. I thought it was rather clever to show that no matter how impressive these guys are, they can still overlook things right in front of them. At the end of the day, it's the regular, unenhanced DOCTOR who wins, all because LARX 3 dismissed her as a threat.

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