When I first heard that they were making a fourth Bourne, I wasn’t just dubious. I was irritated. Same kind of irritation as when I see a dolled-up girl reaching for the mascara again. Hey, would you quit? Enough already. You did it, you’re done. After the trailer came out, I was less irritated, but no less dubious. Excited, yes, confident, no. Sitting in the dark theater, trying to ignore all the banal adds and their accompanying feel-good ditties, I was excited and cringing with doubt down to the last second.
But the movie was actually pretty solid. 1) Tony Gilroy (all the other Bournes, Michael Clayton, State of Play) is up to most of his normal snuff with the screenplay (dialogue was particularly fine), and proves that he’s just about as competent sitting in the director’s chair. His biggest problems were the ones he created for himself in the writing. 2) Jeremy Renner (whom I’ve yet to dislike, maybe because I keep avoiding Dahmer) is of just the right stock, and not simply because he mercifully spares us the middle-ager-trying-to-look-like-a-teenager stunt, aka Tom Cruise’s Favorite Trick. Rachel Weisz herself is pure lovely. Feminine but not ditzy, tough but not she-man-ish. 3) The story claims to be the Bourne legacy, and that’s exactly what it is. Unlike some of the ho-humming critics, I’m actually impressed that Gilroy didn’t conjure up brand new brainchilds and pack them in like they do in TV shows running 3 seasons too long. He simply pushed all the premises of the Bourne trilogy out to the corners. Okay, and a few skinny branches.
My nitpicks? Mostly in the third act — everything that happens in the Philippines. The last 30-45 minutes of any film are where things get really, really bad before they (are supposed to) get really, really good. It’s where the bad guys pull out the big guns and the good guys ramp up their act. Bourne‘s third act is just plain, plain vanilla. The big gun? Just a rather good-looking dude on a motorcycle. Patently nonscary. He would have worked if they’d either given him more backstory and/or at least a revved-up fistfight with Cross. Zipping around on a scooter doesn’t cut it.
As for the good guys ramping up their act, back up to the part where Aaron Cross is supposed to get really sick. Gilroy’s “ticking clock” technique powered the strong middle section of the movie because the consequences of running out of pills were supposedly super-duper bad. But Gilroy saps almost all the dire out of this, well, very undire situation. Feverish for one night? I’ve been sicker with the swine flu. Please, there’s nothing kinder you can do to a hero than beat him up just a little bit more. (Or if you’re J.K. Rowling, go ahead and kill him. That’s even more awesome.) Cross’s comeback is puny and unimpressive, and just adds another area where Act 3 was simply going through the motions of a climax. And because the story didn’t spike, it didn’t really come in for a good landing, either. We go from a spectacular rub-burn on the bum and a GSW to the thigh to…30 seconds on a boat? The only thing that told me the movie was over was Moby’s fabulously familiar electric guitar twanging off “Extreme Ways.”
Good, not great. Much better than it could have been, quite a bit less stellar than it should have been.