The Bourne Legacy : A Review
To review the Bourne Legacy, the newest in the "Trilogy Plus One" Bourne series, you have to understand how seminal the original Bourne movies were. In 2002, when The Bourne Identity came out, the Bond movies, which had previously been the paragons of the genre, had, under Pierce Brosnan, devolved into a self mockery. A gadget for every situation aided the suave British agent as he repeatedly saved the world from increasingly deformed villains. The ridiculous Die Another Day exemplified the sad state of spy movies as Brosnan surfed tsunamis, raced Aston Martins across snowfields, and fought a man with diamonds in his face. If you had to write a movie to sum up the end of the 90's - this was it.
But the bubble had burst. After 9/11 the optimism for the 21 century had shattered, and a British agent from the cold war had become out of touch. After Mission Impossible 2 had failed to create an American Bond, the stage was open for a spy thriller of the 2000's.
The Bourne Identity was an incredible achievement. Rewriting the first Robert Ludlum's Bourne series, it put the grit, the realism, the adrenaline and the excitement back into a spy movie. And this wasn't another cold war story - for the first time the fear of the political climate was used as a backdrop - Bourne wasn't an agent of a good-guy government - he was an assassin; a patriotic soldier who had become a brain washed tool of a corrupt bureaucracy. He had had a crisis of faith, and as he battled episodes of amnesia he began to uncover an identity that had not been wholly corrupted by his handlers. He was a 21st century American hero.
To see how influential this was, you only have to look at what happened to the subsequent Bond movies. With the arrival of Daniel Craig, the Bond movies reverted to a grittier, earlier Bond prototype. Sure, Bond still gallivanted from international art show to casino, but this was a man who bled, a man that loved, a man that hurt. The gadgetry that had propped up bad writing was gone, and the Europe that Bond crossed was less glitzy. Because of Bourne, Bond was as likely to be in a building site than a mega villain's lair.
Even in the next Mission Impossible movie, the ramifications of Bourne were visible - here too the anti-heroes had abandoned their bunkers for high-rises in Asia. The concrete of cold-war thrillers had become the glass towers of faceless corporations. The threat was no longer communism or crazed dictators, it was sociopathic businessmen and arms dealing gamblers.
The second and third Bourne movies had a lot to live up too - and they did this by taking the hallmarks of the first and imposing them on an ever stranger backdrop, with a struggle for independence from the bureaucracy that created him becoming a lust for revenge. The second movie visited Russia - a capitalist and corrupt Russia, as if to rub in the fact that the world had moved on and Bond's enemy communism was no longer the enemy. In the third, Bourne visits London - Bond's home turf. But Bourne also visits south-east Asia and Morocco - a touch of the exotic to liven up the grit of his struggle with the far reaching tendrils of American Imperialism.
The third movie ends the series with a tightness that is uncharacteristic of Hollywood's love for long running series - the Bourne story is finished - loose ends are tied up. It felt like a final middle finger to the 4 movie (soon to be 5) Mission Impossible series, or the 22 movie (23 soon) Bond series.
If you had to look at the legacy of the Bourne movies, Hana, the stylish thriller scored edgily by the Chemical Brothers, and featuring a small blond girl that is more badass than you can ever hope to be, is it. She grows up in an Arctic wasteland hunting deer, under the sadistic tutelage of a nonetheless loving father. She travels through a weird Europe, and eventually ends up in Berlin - A Berlin where the wall has long since fallen. The adrenaline, excitement, and coolness is there, but the suaveness of Bond is nothing but a memory - rotting like the communist concrete of the Berlin suburbs.
So it was startling to see a trailer for another Bourne movie. The Bourne Legacy is not a prequel or a sequel, but wisely chooses the path of tag-along in the Bourne universe. And like Hana, it opens in the bleakness of the cold.
The new Bourne is not bad. It follows the formula well, and provides some genuinely exciting moments. It lives up to it's heritage. Things like the predator drone show that the writers are still deeply inspired by the current political scene. And yet the beauty of the original Bourne trilogy was that there was no formula, they were breaking new ground. By following the formula that makes this movie a success, it is in a sense, proving the rule that the original Bourne movies seemed to disprove - that spy movies eventually turn into a formulaic, rule driven series.
It seems as though the writers know that they are doomed to be a follow up to a successful canon, so they accept this with a wry humor and references to their influences. A motorcycle chase scene recalls MI2, The burning house is reminiscent of Shooter. And that jump across the cliffs of Alaska, that is a cheesy throwback to Vertical Limit. It seems the only movie they don't really reference is the Bond series.
But in a way, the Bourne Legacy doesn't really have to live up to anything. The Bourne series already reformed the genre. This is a genuinely entertaining movie, and it's nice to revisit the Bourne universe. There's just that nagging dread - that there will be another, and that it will probably suck.