Bourne Again or Total Rehash?: Steve Recommends The Bourne Legacy over Total Recall

How many times can you ride a roller coaster before the thrill begins to diminish? Is there a point at which the thrills become so redundant that a switch to the merry-go-round begins to sound like a good idea? My family will soon be heading to an amusement park, so those questions will come into play, but they are also pertinent to my movie viewing over the past two weekends. I saw two of this summer’s high-profile reboots, Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy. They both happen to be action thrillers, so the roller coaster metaphor seems appropriate. Although I have never seen the original Total Recall, this summer’s version still  felt like a ride I had been on before. I’ve seen the three prior Bourne movies multiple times, so The Bourne Legacy felt that way, too. However, there was a big difference between the two experiences. Strangely enough, it was Total Recall that had the been there-done that feel to it, whereas The Bourne Legacy felt like a series that had been born anew. As much as I like Matt Damon, it may have turned out to be good fortune that he decided to opt out of the Bourne series (at least for the time being). So, cutting to the chase (as these movies certainly do), I highly recommend Legacy. As for Total Recall, I’m tempted to say wait for the DVD release, but on the other hand, this is a movie built on action designed for the big screen, so I guess I will lowly recommend it. Even though it’s thrills didn’t feel particularly fresh, I’m still glad I took this roller coaster ride rather than going to the Ice Age merry-go-round!

I nearly skipped seeing The Bourne Legacy. I had seen the lukewarm reviews that said it didn’t live up to its predecessors, in part because Jeremy Renner doesn’t possess Matt Damon’s star quality and that it is lacking in action. Actually, going into this film, I wasn’t a big Jeremy Renner fan. I wasn’t that impressed by The Hurt Locker, although now I think I need to see it again to reevaluate his performance. He was good in The Town, but that was mostly as a counterpoint to Ben Afflect’s part. I thought his Hawkeye was the weakest link in The Avengers, but I don’t think that was really his fault. I had totally forgotten that he was in MI: Ghost Protocol, even though I have seen it. Obviously, I didn’t go to Bourne to see Renner. I went to see Edward Norton and he was delightful as always. (He’s showing his acting range this summer with this and Moonrise Kingdom.) His precise position in the CIA (if he is in the CIA) is cloaked in secrecy, but it is definitely a position of great power. I found the mystery surrounding his position, along with mysteries surrounding Renner’s character, Aaron Cross, and other aspects of the story to be a great strength. Even when the action didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, the slowly unfolding story did. Some complain that the movie moves too slowly, especially at the beginning, but I prefered this movie’s thoughtfulness over The Bourne Ultimatum’s frenetic nature. In fact, I was quite impressed by Tony Gilroy’s directing. His action pieces maintained the intensity of those by Paul Greengrass, but he did so without the use of the shaky-cam that Greengrass relied on and that I don’t particularly like. The action pieces weren’t anything that we haven’t seen before, but Gilroy’s style infused them with thrills that made me glad to be on that roller coaster.  But, getting back to Renner, I have a new respect for him now. He may not have the same star power as Damon, but his performance here was powerful in its own way. He revealed just enough to draw us in and to make us care about Aaron Cross. I want to see more of Cross, possibly with a return by Damon as Bourne, but also, hopefully, in some dynamic scenes where Cross and Norton’s Byer confront one another. In addition to all this, the opening scenes gave us the breathtaking scenery of the mountains of Alberta.

I loved this movie much more than I thought I would and it also offered some questions to grapple with, especially in regard to how we make ethical decisions. This theme arises in regard to the genetic manipulation that is at the center of the film’s story, but also in important ways in regard to military action. This is most clear in the flashback where Byer describes their work as being sin-eaters. He says that their actions are morally indefensible, but that they lead to a greater good. Cross accepts this at the time, but it clearly weighs on him. It’s an important question for us all to consider. Are all actions acceptable if they lead to a desired outcome? Who gets to make those decisions?

If Edward Norton drew me into the theater for Bourne, it is even truer to say that I saw Total Recall because of Colin Farrell. He’s a current favorite of mine. He did what he could here, but wasn’t given enough to work with. The movie did provide plenty of action, but I greeted much of it with a ho-hum. There was potential here as Farrell character struggled with making sense of who he was, who he could trust, and how we know what is real, but there was only one scene that really dug into the potential of those questions. I thought that the characters of the two female leads, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, offered some interesting potential, also. I would have prefered a bit less action and a few more meaty scenes among the three leads. The movie was mildly entertaining, but could have been so much more.

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