Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

I liked the first three Bourne movies. I didn't care for all the shaky cam with all the crazy fast cuts and during the Manhattan car chase in the third I kept wondering where the traffic was, but still I liked them. They had good action scenes, a plot, reasonable acting, all good.

I was looking forward to the fourth in the series. I really liked the cast and while the early reviews were mixed, many of the things I saw described as weaknesses, sounded like improvements to me. Turns out, not so much.

I like Jeremy Renner, I just which directors would let him act in his films. He's actually good at it. Think, The Town, The Hurt Locker and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol. Yeah MI:4 had a more interesting character. I like Rachel Weiss a lot too, but again she only gets to be a real character in a scene or two.

Oddly this film takes place concurrently with the third film. While Treadstone (Bourne's program) is being exposed and shutdown, Edward Norton scrambles to shutdown another related program before it is exposed. Guess which program Renner is in? So Norton talks in a lot of different scenes to a bunch of different higher ups, but in the end it doesn't add anything to the story. It's just motivation, they're after Renner. Either just setup the motivation and don't waste time or add something interesting to that element of the story.

It's a Bourne film, so there should be good action sequences. There are only three and really only the middle one is good. I'll talk about them below but first a comment about the shaky cam. It wasn't too bad in this film and while there were a couple of really great shots, there was a lot of counter-productive moving camera.

A moving camera is supposed to make a scene more exciting. Visually there's more going on so that adds to the excitement of the scene. If there's a scene of boring talking heads, swinging the camera around them isn't going to help. It's still just boring talking. If the point is to actually be boring talking, that is the point is to show something mundane before a big action scene, then moving the camera around just defeats the purpose. Guess what happens in this film?

There's a lot of that in this film, defeating the purpose. At one point, Renner is confronted by three standard security guards. It's just a quick throw away scene, you know he's going to take them out quickly. The point is to show he's really out their league and to move the plot along a little showing they have some time pressure. So he takes them all out in a couple of seconds. It's shown with a couple dozen ridiculously short shots of a fist moving, something spinning, something else happening, etc.. Basically, it's a blur and then Renner is the only one standing. It's a waste. We knew the outcome, wouldn't it have been fun to actually see a choreographed fight showing how he took them out?

Spoilers below.

The whole opening setup with Renner is him on training mission in Alaska. Gorgeous scenery and I guess it gets across that he can take care of himself in the middle of nowhere. And when wolves attack. Then he meets up with another agent and it's not clear what their relationship is. Will they help or kill each other? At one point it looks like he's throwing Renner out and then in the next scene they're just hanging out together, and then the story just jumps someplace else. Why couldn't Renner have been on a real mission at the beginning?

The middle action scene at a large old house was pretty good. There was one really great camera move. Renner comes out of a basement, scales the outside of a building and goes in through a second story window. The camera follows behind him in a single shot going up and into the building. It's not too close so you just see the back of his head, it's far enough away you can see him scale the building for real. It's really nice. I wish the rest of the film was this good.

The chase in Manilla at the end is ridiculous. Renner is on a motorcycle weaving through cars stuck in traffic. The cars aren't moving yet he's being chased by a car that somehow is keeping up with him. It's not clear where the car is or how it manages to move since it's all closeups with quick cuts. A shot of a fender, the driver, a swerving camera blur. There's a crash and then he's next to the motorcycle, which is moving so he must be moving too, but that can't be. It makes absolutely no sense. Then they move him to a motorcycle which he should have been on in the first place, but then the motorcycles start doing ridiculous stuff. It was really disappointing.

During this scene I remember wishing Stanley Kubrick had filmed a car chase so that every other director could have an example of how to do it. As it stands they should all just refer to John Frankenheimer's Ronin.

The closing shot while the final credits role, was really pretty.


Dan O. said...

Though it may not be as great as the original franchise, there is still a great amount of thrilling elements in this film to keep any Bourne fan alive and well while watching. Also, Renner makes a great, new hero that we can all stand and root for, even if he isn’t the same exact character as Jason Bourne. Nice review Howard.

Mike said...

Agree with your insightful and well-supported viewpoints. I enjoyed the movie (I think I have lower standards) ...I liked the chase scenes, fight scenes, Rachel Weiss, and the lead actor. I was engaged and entertained.