Bourne Legacy reviewed by Armond White for CityArts

Born Cynical
By Armond White

Already obsolete, last decade’s financially successful Bourne trilogy–The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy, (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum, (2007)–needed re-booting to suit the new administration’s political pragmatism (the persistence of foreign policies and espionage strategies once deemed unpopular). But the series’ awful rote cynicism (characterizing ruthless, degenerate American identity) was powered by Bush-hatred more than the Robert Ludlum source novels. The films were part of the post-2000 election political contempt and national self-loathing that now proves too strong to die. It infects self-congratulatory Hollywood to this day–and so deeply that it even ruins Tony Gilroy’s amped-up attempt to turn the Bourne series’ anomie into a love story.

This time Matt Damon’s paradigmatic Bourne is replaced by another rogue agent Aaron Cross/ Kenneth Kitsom (Jeremy Renner) put on the kill list by noxious CIA chief Byer (Edward Norton), along with several other players–all Bourniacs who embarrass the Agency’s mission.

Sinister Byer explains “We’re Sin-Eaters. We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary.” His bromide’s directed at personnel who missed A Few Good Men and can’t handle the truth such as government scientist Marta Shearling (Rachel Weisz) who previously drugged agents as part of a diabolical plan to dope-up super spies .When Cross/Kitsom contacts Marta about his addiction, she’s survived an in-house massacre (having also been put on the kill list) and the two renegades–rebelling against the system–fall in love. It’s mutual anti-Americanism.

This kind of neo-noir, replete with political skepticism and action-movie blatancy, isn’t simply sentimental. It mixes romance, violence and cynicism. Its hypocritical message: “Don’t trust the government” even if you’re both killers in love. He’s a vet of Operation Iraqi Freedom (still wearing his damaged youth face from The Hurt Locker plus the pugilist fatigue of Daniel Craig‘s Bond); she’s interested in “Behavioral designs, programmable behavior,” though she never resolves her part in the death of a hunky agent. Gilroy is interested in genre mechanisms (including a Sunset Boulevard floating narrator reference) not human interrelations. He shows career-best kinetic skill (more than past Bourne directors); still, the franchise feels empty.

During the big laboratory massacre scene, we don’t know the characters being slain, it’s just a bloodbath. The climactic motorcycle chase features James Newton Howard’s Morriconesque music score but the action is just a meaningless workout with more anonymous killings. The Bourne films pretend political sensitivity but Gilroy doesn’t seem to care about the humanity of the characters he kills off. Strange that Hollywood is attracted to Borne ciphers who kill without feeling; the condemnation of political butchers bounces back on Hollywood.

Follow Armond White on Twitter @ 3xchair