Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Invisible Man

I've been a fan, mostly, of the Bourne film franchise since the first film.  Tony Gilroy's recent fourth installment to the series, The Bourne Legacy, seems like a good excuse to revisit the whole franchise, which I've been doing in leisurely fashion. 

But the new film.

Like everybody, I've been intrigued at the sheer cheek of making a Bourne film with… no trace of Jason Bourne in it! More than a handicap, the very concept is almost a non-sequitur. I don't honestly know why Matt Damon was not on board for this installment, though I read somewhere a quote from him saying he would not do any Bourne film that did not have Paul Greengrass at the helm. If that's true, I fear I must diverge a bit from Mr. Damon on what makes for a good film. Greengrass, you may recall, directed the second and third films of the franchise, and I was frankly thrilled to hear that he was not involved in The Bourne Legacy. Greengrass's Bourne films seem to worry excessively about looking hip and current, and the story suffers for it. I found both films much too unrelentingly noisy and chaotic, with action scenes shot entirely with hand-held cameras--and these given extra "wiggly-cam" emphasis--and edited in a fashion that will, in the near future, surely define the worst excesses of the present day (I have never seen either film without hearing comments, unbidden by me, that the fight scenes are almost unwatchable). Liman's film is easily the best of the series, and my revisit only strengthens this conviction. So kudos for Greengrass being out; but I was even more excited to learn that Tony Gilroy would be directing this time. His 2007 film Michael Clayton has been a recent favorite of mine.

Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, a government agent who apparently belongs, like Jason Bourne, to a mysterious small group of elite, go-anywhere hitmen. But they're more than just hitmen: they appear to be products of a mysterious secret program to develop special heightened skills. This is more or less hinted at in the previous Bourne films--the amnesiac Jason Bourne finds himself supremely equipped for killing without having any idea where his mad skills came from. He spends the next three films trying to figure out just what the program is / was and who is involved. In The Bourne Legacy, Aaron Cross is out on a training mission in remote Alaska when the program to which he belongs begins to fall apart. Like Jason Bourne before him, he must keep himself alive while trying to figure out why so many other people wish he were not so. 

He is joined for much of the film by Rachel Weisz, who plays Marta Shearing, a genetic scientist who works on the project of which Bourne and Cross are subjects. When their program falls apart, she finds herself in the same hot water as Cross, and so they conveniently find each other and work together. And they've done a passable job of using the scientist to give a layman's explanation of how these agents were altered and for what purpose. (No doubt if I were knowledgeable about genetics I would howl at the stupidity--as I howl at how spectacularly wrong movies ALWAYS get aviation--but here they keep things vague enough that it's not a distraction.) Where there was an almost immediate romantic connection between Jason Bourne and Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente) in the first film, any romance between Cross and Shearing takes its time happening and is mostly only hinted at. This is fine (though I have a thing for Rachel Weisz) as we have quite enough onscreen to keep us occupied.

The timeline of the current film is kind of sandwiched in between the other stories, so that Bourne's name is tossed about frequently, and his on-screen antics from the previous films are often occurring off camera while the present story is unfolding. In this way, he's kind of present in this film without ever appearing. It's odd, but it works.

And if I were Damon, I'd be a bit worried at how well the franchise works without him. Aaron Cross is effectively playing the exact same character as Jason Bourne: basically a decent fellow with a lethal skillset who keeps whole government agencies tied in knots while enthralling the unsuspecting woman he is unwittingly protecting. As I rewatch the older films, Matt Damon really comes off as the perfect Jason Bourne; but it's instructive to realize that it's maybe not the toughest role after all. I'd happily go see any future films with Jeremy Renner in the driver's seat, with or without Matt Damon's presence.

Grade: A-


Vancouver Voyeur said...

I LOVE the Bourne movies. I was excited to see this one since I love the acting I've seen from Rinner. I really enjoyed this movie and hope they make more. As for Damon, I heard an interview with him after wrapping the last Bourne film and he said, with him getting older, and the physical demands of the role, he wasn't sure if he had another Bourne film in him, because it would probably be 3-4 years before the next film and by that time he'd be older, slower, etc. He said recovery time after the fight scenes and doing stunts was noticeably longer for him. He could feel the difference between the first film and the last.

CyberKitten said...

Saw this last night. I was a bit dubious that anyone could follow Matt Damon but Renner did a *fine* job of following in his footsteps.

About a 1/4 of the way through I was officially impressed. I really liked the way they integrated the new film with the existing trilogy and I *really* liked the way they filled out the back story without feeling the need to throw in lots of action just because they could - even if it did bore my friend a little bit here and there!

Plenty of room for a couple of sequels.... I'm looking forward to the next episode [grin].

wunelle said...

Interesting stuff about Matt Damon thinking he's too old for the role (in a manner of speaking). They ARE very physical films, and I can imagine there's much that can't be done with stunt doubles and special effects--though, honestly, the Paul Greengrass action is so discombobulated that white-haired grandmas could probably have stood in.

I especially loved the motorcycle chase in here. I remember thinking the chase scenes in John Frankenheimer's "Ronin" were spectacular; these perhaps even top those.

Yeah, I'd love to see more of this cast! But PLEASE don't go and kill off Rachel Weisz!

dbackdad said...

Yep, I liked the first 3 Bourne films ... and I liked this one. Damon and Renner are both perfectly suited for these roles. Adding Ed Norton and the always awesome in my book, Rachel Weisz, doesn't hurt.

wunelle said...

Yeah, I forgot about Ed Norton. Fabulous as the "heat." He's another of these chameleon-types who can do just about anything--he'd have been a good Bourne. Good to see him again on the screen.