The Bourne Redundancy
By Carl Kozlowski
Jeremy Renner stars in a franchise reboot, but Searching for Sugar Man offers audiences a truly tasty time
We live in an age where Hollywood loves to reboot its movies, especially when they’re blockbusters. Already this summer, we had the preposterous release of a new Spider-Man movie that told essentially the same story its predecessor did a mere decade ago.
This summer brings viewers the re-launch of the Bourne action-film series, with Jeremy Renner stepping in for Matt Damon, who apparently felt three movies leading up to his character’s apparent death by drowning were enough. Of course, with an average worldwide gross of $300 million for each of the prior trilogy of films, Hollywood couldn’t possibly let the decision of its series’ star stand in the way.
And so we have The Bourne Legacy, in which fast-rising star Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) steps in capably—not as Jason Bourne, but as a new character in the same government program that turned Bourne into an unstoppable super-soldier for the CIA. For much of the film, Renner is only known by his numerical identity in the program, “Five,” and it is that level of depersonalization that underscores the weaknesses of the new film.
In Legacy, Five is seen living in the Arctic wilderness, on the run from government assassins who suddenly want all the men in the special-powers program dead. His confusion over what’s happening carries over to viewers, because background information is parceled out in such tiny doses from locations all across the globe that it becomes impossible for the film to build any true momentum in the first hour.
Instead, we see CIA officials muttering that Jason Bourne, Matt Damon’s character, never really died and that they know he’s rampaging through New York City on a quest to expose their nefarious efforts. Since he’s dangerously close to exposing them all, the CIA folks have ordered the killing of Five and his fellow program members. When the story finally becomes clear during a fantastic burst of hand-to-hand combat action in the middle of the film, we realize the ultimate goal for Five and the female doctor who supervised him is to make it to a secret lab in the Philippines and get him weaned off the meds safely so he can step up and bring the program down himself.
The first half of the movie is often confusing, and it’s hard not to want to see Damon starring in this film whenever his character is mentioned. By comparison, the second half of Legacy is richly satisfying as action entertainment, thanks to Five’s inventive means of infiltrating and escaping from the Philippine lab and an absolutely astonishing motorcycle chase sequence at the film’s climax.
Be forewarned, there is a gun massacre scene, in which a scientist abruptly goes haywire and shoots or kills numerous colleagues, that deserves perhaps some chastisement. Of course the filmmakers could never have known about the July 20 massacre that occurred at The Dark Knight Rises screening in Aurora, Colorado, but in hindsight, this Legacy scene’s extensive and coldly dispassionate depiction of a madman killing people methodically and without mercy is excessive and should have been severely trimmed in either editing or the script stage.
It serves as a horrific distraction that almost brings down the movie, which thankfully rebounds with its highly entertaining second half. But surely we can hold the MPAA ratings system accountable for allowing a scene this graphic, intense and long to be rated a mere PG-13, where there are no restrictions on children seeing it.
On a much lighter note, be sure to catch what is probably the year’s best documentary, Searching for Sugar Man while it plays at the Laemmle Playhouse 7. The story follows the mystery of what became of Rodriguez, a Detroit-based singer/songwriter from the late ’60s, whose producers compared him to legends like Dylan, but who never caught a break sales-wise.
Well, in America, at least. In South Africa, bootleg recordings of his became so immensely popular that Rodriguez became a national hero for the anti-apartheid movement and a fixture of that nation’s classic-rock radio stations.
Searching for Sugar Man is that rarest of breeds: a documentary about a single unknown human being and the impact he made on the world, rather than depicting a social cause or an iconic historical figure. Director Malik Bendjelloul expertly guides viewers through a compelling combination of history, mystery, music and ultimate uplift that has resulted in the film’s winning audience awards everywhere from the Los Angeles Film Festival to Sundance. See this movie, and you’ll be buying the soundtrack on the way home.