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Do you know what a sin eater is? We take the sin and bury it down deep so the rest of the world can live pure.

The Bourne Legacy
(2012)

This might be a case of going in to the cinema with low expectations and having them exceeded, but I enjoyed this cash-grab attempt to continue the Bourne brand far more than I expected. Mainly because it's not obsessed with being an identikit copy of its predecessors. Indeed, the film is at its least interesting when the extended vehicular chase climax kicks in and the shaky cam takes over.

I don't know what the reaction to the first hour of this has been generally, but I doubt that anyone expecting a wall-to-wall thrill ride will be happy. Since what we get is mostly talk. But engaging talk, delivered by strong actors and used to create a dramatically involving scenario. I’m not sure it was really necessary to include the tricksiness of paralleling the plot to the events of Ultimatum (particularly as that film had it’s own tricksy timeline in respect of Supermeacy) but I appreciated the old-school spy movie vein running through it.

If Duplicity had me doubting Tony Gilroy a little, this sees him return to Michael Clayton territory of letting thesps get on with the heavy lifting while knowing how to stage a scene unobtrusively (that's not to suggest Legacy is anywhere near as good as Clayton, but it's a signal that if it was up to Gilroy he'd probably be making armchair intrigue of the like of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy rather than unnecessarily continuing an action series). Gilroy is clearly fascinated by power structures, cogs within wheels and moral responsibility in that context. Significant time in this section is spent on Edward Norton and his clean-up operation - a man who repeatedly extols that he is doing what is necessary even though it is a nasty job, suggesting rigorous discipline of mind is required to keep his conscience clear -  and he ensures that his antagonist is as interesting and compelling as the new Bourne.

As for Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross, the casting creates a very different tone after Damon's stoic affability. There's something quite cold about Renner's intensity, and one of the film's stumbling points is the attempt to nurture a relationship between Cross and Rachel Weisz's scientist (echoing Identity's coupling-on-the-run, to some extent). On the other hand, when it comes to selling a tussle with a wolf or a suspicion-laden encounter with fellow operative Oscar Isaac in an Alaskan cabin his casting pays dividends. Weisz is fine, but I presume she took the role as she needed to pay some bills; she's also central to the best set piece in the film, when her lab is taken out.

As mentioned, Tony Gilroy's not a natural fit for the Paul Greengrass school of epileptic direction, so for the most part this looks closer to Identity. Script-wise, I know he's taken criticism for going off into science fiction realms by making the lead a chemically-enhanced soldier of formerly low IQ but it wasn't a deal breaker for me. I quite liked that they ran in the opposite direction of having him want to retain whatever it was that was done to him; his former normal life was something he has no interest in resuming (although the film doesn’t have much interest in exploring the themes of genetic manipulation on eugenics). I can't say I was too convinced by the method suggested for locking down his abilities permanently, but it was another attempt to ape the original trilogy in the final reel that I had more of a problem with (most of my issues with Gilroy’s film come from that “we must remember this is a Bourne film” section); suddenly revealing another programme out of nowhere just so that Renner has someone to fight was lazy plotting.

So, definitely not up there with the Damon films, and I don't know where they can go from here that doesn't mimic that trilogy (assuming this is successful enough to command another instalment, which looks dubious), but worth a look if you can handle the more fantastical direction Gilroy takes the series in.

****

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