You’d swear that Naas Botha was running Hollywood at the moment, with all the reboots we’re seeing. The credits have barely stopped rolling on a movie, before it gets announced that a new, younger and edgier version is in the pipeline. Usually followed immediately by the incandescent rage of thousands of fanboys melting the internet to slag.
So what do you do when you have a hit series that still has huge market appeal, but where the main character’s story has already been told and your lead actor isn’t interested in returning, but where you also don’t want to earn the ire of your fans by scrapping all that’s come before?
You make a re-paral-equel, that’s what!
This unenviable task fell onto the shoulders of Bourne series screenwriter and now director, Tony Gilroy, who’s already shown a deft hand behind the camera with the Academy Award winning Michael Clayton. Gilroy turned it into a family affair, getting his brother Dan to help him pen the script, while youngest Gilroy sibling John would be at the editing desk.
What Tony and Dan came up with was a very clever idea, that still has it’s roots in this world of espionage and excitement that Matt Damon first introduced us to back in 2002, but which is a brand new adventure that can stand on it’s own: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is an agent of Outcome, one of the successor’s to Jason Bourne’s Treadstone program of government assassins. But whereas Treadstone “assets” were turned in emotionless killing machines via psychological conditioning techniques courtesy of Albert Finney’s bullfrog voice and drowning fetish, Outcome went straight-up mad scientist with some gene manipulation therapy.
When Bourne starts blowing open the Treadstone story to the public though, these shady G-men at the top start to panic that a link between Treadstone and Outcome will be found, exposing all their dirty little secrets. So just like every rational person who’s ever just poured billions of dollars into a project would do, they decide to burn it all to the ground, personnel included.
Unfortunately for them, they miss a couple people in the form of Cross and the scientist responsible for administering Cross’ necessary regular gene therapy treatments, Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). So begins a global chase as Cross and Shearing try to get away from the various clean-up crews sent after them, while at the same time looking to permanently remove Cross’ dependency on the gene altering chemicals that make him a super-spy, but also makes him dependent on Outcome to keep his body from going into meltdown.
Well, I say that a global chase begins, but to be fair, it takes the better part of an hour for any such central conviction for the story to actually rear its head. That’s not to say that nothing happens prior to that, it’s just that the movie jumps around a lot as Edward Norton’s Eric Byer and his crew of government cronies try to contain the Jason Bourne fallout as well as implementing their scorched earth policy for all their other programmes.
Not helping with the narrative’s helter skelter structure is the fact that the film expects you to be very, very familiar with the events and characters of the previous trilogy, specifically The Bourne Ultimatum, as most of the film’s first 40 minutes runs in parallel to the events happening there. You get brief cameos as characters from that movie pop up just to utter a line or two before disappearing again (sometimes in a cloud of red mist where their forehead used to be) and for the uninitiated, this could be severely daunting and confusing.
Now Kervyn, you might say, why would people walk into the fourth movie in a series without having seen the first three? Well, firstly, until you buy me that second drink, I’m still Mr. Cloete to you, and secondly, as this is being billed as the start of a new spinoff, it’s bound to happen that there will be some newcomers in the audience who are going to be completely lost by the rather dense plot.
Luckily for them though, they can just be kept entertained by Jeremy Renner being a badass. Whether he’s proving his fisticuffs proficiency against some unfortunate security guards, or even making Liam Neeson proud as he goes toe to claw with a pack of ravenous wolves, Renner handles the action with aplomb and none can complain about him following on from Damon in that respect.
But it’s those moments in between the explosions and broken limbs that appealed to me the most. Aaron Cross is not Jason Bourne – he has zero uncertainty about who or what he is – and as such you get a character that’s funny and engaging, even a little selfish in his desires and far less prone to navel gazing than Bourne was.
Rachel Weisz (who mysteriously hasn’t seemed to age a day in the last 15 years) plays a good sidekick who actually serves a purpose other than just looking good and being rescued by the leading man. There’s also decent chemistry between the pair, and as (minor spoiler warning) Gilroy has announced that he has more story ideas for possible future outings for the characters, you can certainly expect their relationship to blossom.
Gilroy, who hasn’t really done anything action-ey as a director before, handles it all admirably. For the most part he’s kept things a bit more steady than Doug Liman or Paul Greengrass did, camera wise, but things still get pretty kinetic once Cross’ super-druggie fists and feet start to fly. If you weren’t a fan of this in the previous movies, well then you’re not going to be won over now, but it does help to keep visual cohesion between all the movies.
However, the film’s biggest failing is that the narrative hops around so much that you might think that there are about 6 acts instead of the traditional 3, but none of them are actually a final act. It’s simply a matter of things happening, more things happening, action bit, some other things, more action, even more things, credits roll. Antagonists and protagonists pretty much never even share screen time, much less have any sort of concluding confrontation, and it feels more like a lull in the story than a proper chapter end.
In the end, even with its flaws, if you’re a fan of the Bourne franchise, this will certainly have relevant spot on your DVD shelf next to the other films.
Last Updated: September 25, 2012