Writer Robert Ludlum died a year before Jason Bourne, his most famous character, was brought to life on the big screen by Matt Damon. He didn’t get to enjoy Damon’s take on the action hero, but he did see another version of The Bourne Identity and the famous superspy.
The writer reportedly enjoyed the 1988 300-minute, two-part made-for-television movie of The Bourne Identity starring mini-series king Richard Chamberlain in the role Damon later made famous. Despite a cheeseball love scene between Chamberlain and co-star Jaclyn Smith the TV special (now available on DVD) was a faithful adaptation of the first Bourne novel and even earned its lead actor a Golden Globe nomination.
These days Ludlum would be hard pressed to recognize his character, however. He wrote the first three Bourne books but after his death the series was kept alive by writer Eric Van Lustbader, who has made slight, but noticeable changes to the character over the course of seven subsequent novels.
Moviegoers may also find themselves a tad confused this weekend when Jeremy Renner takes over the lead from Damon in The Bourne Legacy. Renner, who beat out Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, Taylor Kitsch and Josh Hartnett for the gig, isn’t playing Jason Bourne, but a reasonable facsimile—a trained assassin brainwashed into taking part in covert government activities.
In Hollywood they call that expanding “the franchise mythology.” In other words Damon didn’t want to return to the franchise but the studio still wanted another Bourne movie.
Ludlum’s books—he wrote 23 thrillers with sales estimated between 290-500 million—have also provided the basis for several movies without the name Bourne in the title.
The Osterman Weekend is a confusing movie about a television journalist who becomes convinced his friends are a threat to national security. Ludlum apparently offered to rewrite the perplexing script at no charge, but was rejected by the movie’s producers. The result is an entertaining mess the New York Times said, “has a kind of hallucinatory craziness to it.”
The Holcroft Covenant was another troubled production. Star James Caan walked out the day before filming was to begin, unhappy with the script. His replacement, Michael Caine, carries the espionage story, but the action scenes are more entertaining than the spy story.
In development is the Chancellor Manuscript, Ludlum’s story about J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged “secret files.” Leonardo DiCaprio is rumored to be in talks to star.
The real legacy of Bourne, apparently, lies in frenetic action and wild hand held camera moves. That’s the only thing passed down from the first three movies. The new film, “The Bourne Legacy,” features a new star in Jeremy Renner, a new director in Tony Gilroy and a new, simpler structure.
Dovetailing the story from “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the film begins with Jason Bourne’s arrival in Manhattan, although Matt Damon who made the character famous is nowhere to be seen. Bourne’s appearance has outed the CIA’s Treadstone/Operation Outcome unit so head honcho Eric Byer (Edward Norton) orders all agents neutralized, i.e., assassinated before a Senate committee can unearth info on the genetic experiments they conducted on their agents. Among the targets is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a highly skilled operative who requires chemical enhancement to stay in peak killing form. On the run, he picks up genetic scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who he hopes can lessen his reliance on his daily dose of “chems.”
Why they didn’t call this movie Bourne Again, I’ll never know. Jason Bourne may not make an appearance, but it feels like a movie we’ve seen before–the same shaky camera and over-the-top action. The only thing that’s changed is that while there’s a fair amount of CIA superspy gobbledygook, its surprisingly light on plot. For a movie about the deepest, darkest workings of secret government agencies the story is really rather simple.
Gilroy, who has written all four Bourne movies, is much more deliberate in his storytelling now that he is behind the camera as well. He’s brought the franchise’s trademarks along for the ride, but story wise it almost feels like one of the Pierce Brosnan “James Bond” movies. The ones they were making just before Daniel Craig stepped into the picture to revitalize the tired 007 series. There are gadgets, a Bond girl (ironically played by Craig’s wife Rachel Weisz) and even an unstoppable Energizer Bunny of a super villain.
It’s not bad, just familiar and not as blood-pumping as the Paul Greengrass directed “Bournes” of yore.
The action is wild and frequent, although there is nothing as memorable as the old rolled up magazine in the toaster trick from “The Bourne Supremacy.”
Renner, however, mostly holds his own. He can run, jump and shoot with the best of them, but I was hoping for more charisma. When he’s not in motion chasing after a bad guy or wrestling a wolf, I found him kind of flat. I was more on side with him in the beginning when he played Cross like a junkie who needed to score. After that he becomes a bland Bond wannabe.
“The Bourne Legacy” isn’t an improvement on the movies that came before, but it doesn’t embarrass it self either. Sure, Weisz could have been given more to do than tag along with Renner in his quest and the (MILD SPOILER ALERT) Bourne Free ending could use some finessing to make it seem less like a door slamming shut on the story, but there are enough tense moments and thrills to make it worth your dollar. It just doesn’t add much to the legacy of the Bourne franchise.