“The Bourne Legacy.” Why?

The Bourne Legacy

When your franchise actor won’t come back, you soldier on.

Jason Bourne as played by Matt Damon was a compelling character. Bourne had lost his memory and he discovered that he was a special agent working for nefarious government overlords. He wanted to remember who he was while dodging a variety of villains gunning for him. Damon played him with vulnerability and menace in equal parts. It’s easy to understand why the character and the three films he starred in, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum, were so successful.

It’s also easy to understand why Universal didn’t want to give up on the franchise when Damon said he wouldn’t come back.

And it’s fair to say the universe that Bourne inhabited seemed rife with interesting stories. I certainly think there is a way this series could carry on without Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and still be compelling. Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy isn’t it.

It should go without saying that this piece contains spoilers about Legacy as well as the previous Damon vehicles as well. The central problem with Legacy is the premise. In the first three films, generally the premise was focused on Jason Bourne was trying to learn who he was while battling shadowy government forces seeking to escape exposure. Legacy starts during the third Bourne movie, Ultimatum, when it’s discovered that Jason Bourne is in NYC. Some of Ultimatum’s characters like Scott Glenn and David Strathairn make little more than cameos throughout the movie and pass their evil batons to Ed Norton and Stacy Keach. Joan Allen literally appears for about 15 seconds towards the non-sequitur ending, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bourne is in NYC and while the 3rd film’s evil characters are dealing with that situation, we find out they were also talking to other shadowy, evil characters in another government agency who now strive to clean up the mess. All of this is juxtaposed with disconnected sequences of Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross (not named for like 3/4 of the movie, by the way), in Alaska swimming in freezing lakes, fighting wolves (really), and taking pills. This is all setup for a ham-handed comment later on where a character suggests that wolves don’t normally pursue a person like they’ve been doing and maybe it’s because they don’t perceive him as a man, but as an animal. Ok.

Anyway, Bourne in NYC has exposed the secret programs the government has been running and now the press and Congress are aware. Eventually, the bad guys start doing what they generally do in movies like this: they start killing everyone and destroying evidence. Of course, since Aaron Cross is battling nature off the grid in Alaska, he is spared from the poisoned drugs the other agents take. Cross comes upon a cabin in the wilderness that’s run by a fellow operative in a very confusing series of sequences where we learn that Cross “asks too many questions” and has kind of a quippy demeanor, which none of the other agents we’ve seen in the series this far have displayed. But it’s not clear why Renner’s character was in the wilderness at all and it’s not clear why the operative in the cabin is acting so weird–he’s clearly not a part of the evil government’s plans since they blow him up with a drone strike that Cross escapes purely on luck.

At this point, the movie devolves into, well, a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. And this is glaringly apparent in our “hero’s” primary motivation: to find more drugs. Yep, really. Jason Bourne sought to learn his identity and escape the reach of a massive government cover-up. Aaron Cross is running out of drugs and wants more. That’s his motivation and that’s the story which drives the plot.

Did I mention Rachel Weisz is in this? Well, she is. In the first half of the movie, while inter cutting between Cross in AK and Ed Norton snarling in DC(?), they eventually add a third cut to a pharmaceutical company where Weisz’s character works. She runs blood tests on mysterious guys who, I think we’re just supposed to infer are secret agents like Bourne and Cross. It’s not until a flashback much later that we see Cross was, in fact, one of her patients. They don’t appear to have any real connection or chemistry in this scene other than Renner kind of mugging for her attention. It’s Rachel Weisz, so I can understand.

Anyway, Zeljko Ivanek (aka: State’s Attorney Ed Danvers from Homicide: Life on the Street and about a million other things) plays another researcher at Weisz’s company. One day he starts killing everyone and, I guess, he kind of liked Rachel Weisz so he didn’t kill her right away. But then he does try and security guards kill him. The movie clumsily tells us that this guy did this because he was biologically programmed to do so. YES, shock: the same kinds of drugs that Aaron Cross takes are being leveraged by the government to program super agents into doing… things. Killing people. You know, spy stuff.

Weisz was the only survivor and when the government tries to kill her, too, Renner inexplicably shows up and kicks ass, kind of. I say “kind of” because I couldn’t help but think that Jason Bourne would have mopped these clowns up in no time. I mean, this was a guy who defeated another super spy in hand to hand combat with a Bic pen. Renner, on the other hand, has trouble battling some guys who appear to just be faceless government stooge suits. Maybe I’m being picky on this point.

But really, the rest of the movie is just Renner and Weisz traveling from place to place looking for pills so he can avoid devolving… or something. I’m not 100% clear what happened with that. I think I was on Twitter during those parts. Suffice it to say, they sort of figured it out and the government chased them. Even the motorcycle chase through Manilla (I think it was Manilla) was sort of *blah.* Bourne’s car duel vs. New Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) in The Bourne Supremacy was a far superior chase sequence, though this one had Rachel Weisz screaming and freaking out a lot. She also got to do something at the end other than be scared and scream, which was nice for her, I guess.

Then the movie just kind of ends. Literally. Our heroes(?) have escaped evil Ed Norton, who was really an ineffectual government opponent, but it’s not like he’s done looking for them. They only defeated the super(?) agent pursuing them, who apparently had better drugs (really), and dropped the local police off of their tail. But Norton and Stacy Keach are certainly still looking for them. There’s that weird, pointless Joan Allen cameo I mentioned earlier where it kind of seems like she’ll be arrested or… something, which kind of negates the semi-positive ending of The Bourne Ultimatum.

I guess what I’m really saying is: Matt Damon, stop making movies with Jim from The Office and do more of these movies because these guys are lost without you.

Why Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is succeeding and DC’s isn’t

Why Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is succeeding and DC’s isn’t

This “Wired” interview with Marvel’s Kevin Feige is essential reading for anyone trying to understand why Marvel’s cinematic universe is thriving and DC’s is barely getting off the ground. Please read for full context.

It says, essentially, that the Marvel cinematic plan works for two reasons: 1. They HAD a plan, and 2. Kevin Feige keeps it together. From what I can tell, both from my own industry observations and this article DC and Warner Brothers don’t have a plan and they don’t have anyone leading the effort.

Man of Steel was a good movie, but I wouldn’t declare it a resounding success like 2008’s Iron Man was. Plus, the announcement of Superman vs. Batman feels spontaneous and not well thought out. For example, DC has changed course on their shared cinematic universe a few times since The Avengers came out. If you recall, DC initially said they would release Man of Steel and follow it up with Justice League in 2015 (when The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron will come out, FYI). Then, they backed off that plan and said, “Well, let’s just see how Man of Steel goes…” Not great planning.

Marvel has had a plan for years now. The article confirms that Feige had a plan since 2006 for what he wanted to happen. The goal was to make Iron Man an awesome movie that could stand on its own, but also add details that could point the way forward towards a larger world. Nick Fury appearing at the end of the credits is the biggest “detail,” of course, but Agent Coulson carries the larger SHIELD story forward throughout the “stand alone” narrative. Tony Stark and some “blink and you’ll miss them” visual Easter eggs carry the torch forward in The Incredible Hulk.

Furthermore, Feige executes the plan like a manager overseeing departments. Each department (movie) does its job and stands on its own, but works towards a unified purpose. Kenneth Branagh made Thor and it told the story of the titular hero and his nefarious brother, but it also planted major seeds for The Avengers. If you only watched Thor, that would be OK because the movie stands on its own story, but elements of that story serve a larger narrative because Feige is managing those macro details.

The only thing Man of Steel did was insert some easter eggs about Batman and Lex Luthor. It stands as a movie on its own, but it’s not clear to me how it supports a larger universe other than to say, “Oh, hey, Wayne Corp exists.” In fact, I would argue that it presents a challenge for the makers of Batman vs. Superman since it had such wanton, extravagant destruction. How do you top that? It will be hard. And choosing Ben Affleck as Batman smacks of stunt casting to me. I’m not hyper-critical about him as Batman like some are, but it’s fair to say I didn’t jump for joy when I heard. It sounds like yet another half-cocked idea from Warner Brothers and DC without much of thought behind it.

The real tragedy here is that Warner Brothers and DC have a lock on all of their properties, but aren’t doing anything with them. I am not a lawyer with inside knowledge on that , but from what I’ve seen, it looks like they have everything they need to build a shared cinematic universe in-house. Marvel only has some of their properties. Fox has X-Men and Fantastic Four. Sony has Spider-Man. In fact, Spider-Man had been Marvel’s most lucrative property once upon a time, but The Avengers and Iron Man changed that 2 billion dollars later. Now, Marvel has thrown in with Disney (who now owns Star Wars, too…) and has earned enough capital to get a little bit more experimental — next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy is somewhat of a risk, but I believe it will be worthwhile. DC can’t even make a good Green Lantern movie or even get Wonder Woman* and The Flash off the ground. At this rate, we won’t be seeing a Booster Gold or Cyborg movie any time soon.

My question for DC is: who is your Kevin Feige? Doesn’t look like they have one. If they asked me (and they haven’t), I’d nominate Bruce Timm or Paul Dini. These guys made Batman: The Animated Series and crafted a compelling cartoon universe that eventually grew into the Justice League containing just about every conceivable hero and villain in DC comics. The Question was a character, for goodness sake.

Your move, DC.