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Blu-ray Review: The Bourne Legacy

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The Bourne Legacy is an extension of the original Jason Bourne films, dealing with the wake left by Bourne’s exposure of the government’s secret-ops program. Another agent, Aaron Cross, is now in danger in an attempt to contain any remaining traces of the program. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, and is directed by Tony Gilroy, who also worked on all three previous Bourne movies.

The Movie

The title The Bourne Legacy offers a clue that there is a transition in the works, as this latest film in the popular Bourne series moves on from the character of Jason Bourne, and introduces us to another similar operative. Because as it turns out, there are/were a whole lot of guys (and ladies) like Bourne. This film runs concurrent with the end ofThe Bourne Ultimatum as the Treadstone project is quickly unraveling, and the stealth parties behind it quickly try to bury both that project and all the others like it. And yes, there were other projects.

Enter Aaron Cross. Cross (Jeremy Renner) is a Bourne-like agent who gets caught in the middle of the government’s attempt to extinguish all  agents like him. After narrowly escaping elimination and trying to uncover answers about what’s going on, he teams up with Marta (Rachel Weisz), a medical lead the government had assigned to his program; she is also on the run. I

t turns out that medicine is incredibly important to Aaron’s agent strain, as it both keeps him in a heightened physical and mental state, and also regularly expires; something that keeps him dependent on the program for re-up doses. And so it’s now the two of them against the world and they’re running out of time. Cue action.

The challenge of this film is that it has to incorporate old story lines while launching new ones. Jason Bourne must be referenced but quickly discarded to make way for Aaron Cross, so we end up with a lot of cross-exposition. And that’s the main thing that weighs this movie down.

There are a ton of behind-the-scenes government meetings where all the higher-ups sit around and talk ad nauseum about how to save their hides, catch others up on why everything’s going to hell, and why we must – simply must – bring these agents down now! And when we finally get back to scenes with Aaron and Marta, they spend half their time talking about the need to get his drugs and the medical explanations behind what they do. It’s a whole lot of talking that severely slows the pace of the film. The writers came up with a good idea, and some very Bourne-ish plot twists, but in the execution of it, everything seems to get caught up in committee as we sit around and watch people sitting around.

But the filmmakers’ position was always going to be a tricky one here, as unfortunately this film had to go through an awkward transition phase in order to convincingly switch main characters and story focus while staying true to the series. Otherwise we’d have the opposite problem that so many action films run into, which is too many action scenes thrown in for no apparent reason. At times Legacy does feel like the chicken nugget of the Bourne flicks – made from real bits of Bourne with a lot of spare dialogue parts thrown in – but the fact that they still managed to eek out a very decent action flick despite some pretty unenviable obstacles is no small feat.

In truth, watching this movie on Blu-ray helps it out quite a bit. I can understand if people might have been a bit underwhelmed when watching it for the first time in the theater, but it starts to gel a little more with repeat viewing. The mixing in of Ultimatum to the narrative of Legacy is a bit confusing at first, as their desire to not make the movie way too long means that they really don’t establish their timelines very well. But once Aaron Cross gets his motor running – and once you figure out exactly why these new people are retracing old plot lines – Legacy reveals quite an interesting story that aids the overarching Bourne narrative considerably. Renner is excellent as Cross, and in fact brings a bit more humanity and vulnerability to what could have been a cookie-cutter action lead. In the end, Legacy stumbles a bit as it shifts stories, but it manages to land on its feet enough to set up what could be a very promising new Bourne series.

Video / Audio

Pacing issues aside, the Blu-ray presentation for The Bourne Legacy is rock solid. Detail is crisp, with the film’s somewhat high-contrast look revealing ample detail, solid lines and stylishly muted colors that veer towards cold. There are no compression or encode issues to note, and neither are there are stray artifacts or anomalies on the print.

And the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is potent, with in-your-face ballistic energy from start to finish. It’s obvious the sound designers had a good time with this film, and mined the action sequences for all they’re worth. But even the interior scenes have a resonant realism to them, and throughout the surround speakers aren’t used as gimmicks but to actually reflect both ambient spaces and intense action. The only knock is that the track has extremely wide dynamic range, which means you’ll be riding the remote to hear dialogue and then contain explosions. But really, that’s par for the course with action films. A winning presentation all around.

Bonus Material

Director Tony Gilroy and screenwriter Dan Gilroy helm a group of contributors in the filmmaker-centric commentary on the movie, and while their thoughts shed a bit more light on decisions regarding storyline and structure of this film, they also have some interesting comments to share about filmmaking in general. The commentary love continues with a trio of “Deleted Scenes” (HD, 6:48), parts of which actually seem to aid the story, but were cut for time.

Behind-the-scenes items begin with “Re-Bourne” (HD, 6:11) which focuses on continuing the Bourne story in a post-Jason setting. “Enter Aaron Cross” (HD, 7:11) focuses on the new main character and the casting of Jeremy Renner. “Crossing Continents: Legacy on Location” (HD, 8:22) offers a peek at some of the shooting locales, primarily in northern Canada and Manila, Philippines. “Man vs. Wolf” (HD, 4:36) takes a look at the tricky mix of blending live action with CGI and puppetry for the wolf fight sequence, but in case you can’t get enough they also offer the somewhat redundant “Wolf Sequence Test” (HD, 1:39).

“Moving Targets: Aaron and Marta” (HD, 6:11) focuses on the special bond in the story between… oh go ahead and guess. And “Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase” (HD, 7:49) offers a fairly dizzying look at filming the climactic and crazy motorcycle chase sequence. The DVD disc included in the set also includes the commentary track, deleted scenes, “Re-Bourne” and “Capturing Chaos.”

Conclusion

The Bourne Legacy seems burdened by its need for transition between Jason Bourne and Aaron Cross. It frequently has the feel of a Bourne flick, at least when it’s not stuck in the quicksand of its medical drama. Fortunately with this film out of the way – and with a new lead and character established – a followup would be freed to get back to what the series does best, which is globetrotting and ass-kicking.

The film isn’t without its flaws, but it ultimately provides a good tale and a good escape. The technical presentation, however, is perfectly solid, and a decent collection of extras make this a movie that actually works better in the home video world – where a repeat visit honestly helps – than as a one-off theater viewing. Recommended for fans of the series.

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About David R Perry