“THE BOURNE LEGACY” – 3.5 STARS

I was late catching up with the “Bourne” series which is highly unusual since they are the type of movie I gravitate towards. I’ve now seen the first three films starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, one of several physically and mentally enhanced government black ops projects. Damon steps aside but the series continues with “The Bourne Legacy”. Jeremy Renner is the new leading man playing a new leading character but writer and director Tony Gilroy maintains an import sense of connection and familiarity with the previous films. Gilroy wrote the first three movies and goes to great lengths to make this feel like a Bourne film while also possibly launching the series into a new direction. While Gilroy does occasionally struggle matching up with earlier films, the movie definitely has its moments that nicely falls in line with the series.

While Jason Bourne isn’t in the movie his presence is clearly felt. Gilroy (and his brother Dan who also helped with the screenplay) connect the actions of “The Bourne Ultimatum” to this story. As Jason Bourne continues to threaten the government’s black ops programs, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is called in to clean the mess up. His solution – to wipe out all of the human projects and those connected to them. One of those projects turned target is Aaron Cross (Renner), an Operation Outcome agent who is considered a step up from those involved in the now exposed Treadstone. But when the attempt on his life fails, Cross is sent scrambling for answers. He’s also ran out of a special medication that keeps him both mentally and physically balanced. Cross tracks down Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor connected to Operation Outcome who he hopes can get him get the pills he needs. But she soon finds that her connection to the project has made her one of Byer’s targets and Cross is her only chance at survival.

For many, the big question revolves around Renner. Does his Aaron Cross match what Damon was able to bring to his Jason Bourne character? Well, yes and no. Renner is most certainly Damon’s equal when it comes to acting. Renner is completely convincing and he’s got the physical abilities to sell each and every action sequence. Cross is different from Bourne in that there is no amnesia.  He knows he’s part of a government project although the amount of knowledge he has is limited. While this isn’t necessarily a flaw with the character, it did take away one of the most intriguing elements of Bourne’s story. But a slightly bigger problem with the character isn’t as much about Renner as it is the writing and direction. Cross is a solid protagonist but I couldn’t help feeling that he lacked the intensity of Jason Bourne. There are a couple of scenes where he “loses it” for a lack of a better phrase, but overall he seldom comes across as intense or as threatening as Bourne.

Nonetheless, Renner’s performance is very good and he’s also surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Weisz is always great and she’s no different here. Her character is the most sympathetic in the film and I loved how Weisz portrays her through the numerous emotionally charged situations she has to deal with. Norton is also good as the evil government clean-up guy. He easily sells the amoral “just doing my job” persona and we genuinely dislike this guy from the moment he first enters the picture. I also really liked Oscar Isaac as a fellow Outcome operative who Cross encounters early in the film. Bourne fans will also enjoy the small but interesting returns of David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Scott Glenn. Each have cool little tie-in scenes that answer questions left over from the last film.

“The Bourne Legacy” doesn’t hurry out of the gate. Gilroy takes his time laying out the story and defining his characters. There were a couple of times when I did feel things were moving a little too slow, but overall it works well  and the movie’s third act is pretty action packed. Speaking of the action, it captures some of the same qualities of the past Bourne flicks – hard-hitting hand-to-hand fight scenes and of course a vehicle chase scene. I mean you can’t have a Bourne movie without a vehicle chase and this film gives us a great one. Renner thrills as he runs, jumps, punches, and kicks. Unfortunately his fight scenes are almost rendered incoherent due to moments of inconsistent editing. There were a couple of fight scenes where I literally had no idea what was going on other than punching.

I can see where some would consider “The Bourne Legacy” a cash grab. But even with its few flaws it’s still a fun movie that fits right in with the Bourne series. It stumbles in a few areas and I wouldn’t consider it the best of the series. But Gilroy knows the material well and he knows how to bring new characters into this universe. Renner gives a strong performance and Weisz is wonderful to watch. It also features a chase sequence at the end that is nothing short of awesome. But more importantly, it left me anxious and anticipating what’s coming next. So I would call it a success.

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2012

TOP 10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2012

2011 gave us some memorable movies but overall it wasn’t the best year for film lovers. But fear not, 2012 seems to have a fantastic lineup of potentially great films. The year’s lineup is loaded with big-budget sequels, action-packed ensembles, trilogy finales, historical dramas, and much more. Here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2012:

#10 – “THE BOURNE LEGACY”

The fourth installment of the popular Bourne series brings with it some major changes. Tony Gilroy directs but the biggest draw for me is the addition of Jeremy Renner in the lead role. Renner plays Aaron Cross and is joined by fellow cast members Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, and Oscar Isaac. I’m a huge Renner fan and if anyone can capture the intensity of a Jason Bourne styled character, it will be him.

#9 – “THE GREAT GATSBY”

There have been several adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. 2012’s big screen version brings a strong cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, and Tobey Maquire. It’s set for a December 25th release which often times indicates that the film is aimed at awards season. Here’s hoping that this classic story gets a classic treatment in 2012.

#8 – “DJANGO UNCHAINED”

Speaking of stellar casts, how can you not be excited about a film that features the talents of Jaime Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Don Johnson? Quentin Tarantino writes and directs this film described as a spaghetti western but I’m sure with a Tarantino twist. With Tarantino you never know what to expect but it’s always new, fresh, and unlike anything you have seen before.

#7 – “PROMETHEUS”

If you enjoyed the “Alien” pictures (particularly the first two), then you have to be excited about Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. While it’s said to definitely be connected to the “Alien” movies, “Prometheus” is essentially its own story and as a Ridley Scott fan, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron only make the prospects sweeter. The teaser trailer looks moody, mysterious, and downright creepy. I can’t wait.

#6 – “THE AVENGERS”

I’m a long time comic book reader and super-hero fan so Marvel’s “The Avengers” certainly is on my radar. I’ve had loads of fun with the movies focused on the individual heroes and now we get them all together in what could be a really, really good film or a cluttered mess. I’m optimistic especially considering that Marvel has had this in the works well before the individual films were made. That bigger vision could equal one fun summer popcorn flick. Downey, Jr., Evans, Johansson, Hiddleston, Ruffalo, Jackson, Hemsworth, and Renner provide plenty of acting muscle to pull this thing off.

#5 – “THE HOBBIT”

2012 also gives us the first part of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”. As a huge fan of what he did with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I have full confidence that he will give us another exciting experience in Middle-Earth. Many actors reprise their roles including Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and Andy Serkis. I fully expect this to be another rousing visual accomplishment and Jackson’s familiarity with the material will be evident. Set for a December release, what a way to end the year!

#4 – “SKYFALL”

I have never been the biggest James Bond fan but that all changed when Daniel Craig took over the role in “Casino Royale”. “Skyfall” is Craig’s third film as 007 and the first since 2008. Adding to the excitement is the casting of Javier Bardem as Bond’s main antagonist. Craig’s Bond has passed over the overtly cheesy dialogue and suave sophistication and replaced it with a tougher, grittier Bond that’s more grounded in reality. I’ve loved his first two films and can’t wait for “Skyfall“.

#3 – “THE WETTEST COUNTY”

The Wettest County” is a film that excites me on the sheer strength of its cast and it’s depression-era setting. It instantly makes my list just for starring personal favorites of mine Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman plus 2011 breakout actress Jessica Chastain. Australian John Hillcoat, also known for 2009’s “The Road”, directs the Nick Cave screenplay. This film has flown under most people’s radar but I see it as loaded with potential and featuring some brilliant talent. “The Wettest County” hits select theaters in August.

#2 – “LINCOLN”

Some have mentioned having “Spielberg Fatigue” but I can’t say that fits me. But to be honest Steven Spielberg isn’t the reason I’m excited about 2012’s “Lincoln”. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most gifted actors in film and his last work in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” was one of the single best performances I have ever seen. Needless to say I can’t wait to see him portray Abraham Lincoln. A fantastic supporting cast has been placed around him featuring Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, and more. If Spielberg keeps himself under control, this could turn out to be a true motion picture classic.

#1 – “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”

Christopher Nolan has made super-hero movies into more than just summer popcorn pictures. His brilliant “The Dark Knight” wasn’t just a comic book movie. It was a dark and complex film featuring perfect direction, great performances, and impeccable sound and visuals. Nolan’s trilogy comes to an end with “The Dark Knight Rises” and everything points to this being another amazing picture. Joining the cast for the final installment are Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Returning is Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. Nolan is one of the top directors in Hollywood and there is no reason to think he’s not going to finish his Batman run with a phenomenal final chapter.

Agree or disagree? Maybe there’s a movie you’re looking forward to seeing that didn’t make my list. Leave your comments below and share what you think of the 2012 movie releases.