Jeremy Renner

The Bourne Legacy

2012

Universal Pictures

Directed by Tony Gilroy

Produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley

Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy

Based on a story by Tony Gilroy

Inspired by The Bourne Series written by Robert Ludlum

I will give THE BOURNE LEGACY credit for being original in one major area: it’s not a prequel or sequel to the previous three Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. The events of this movie take place at the same time the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum” play out. Jason Bourne is mentioned a few times and we briefly see pictures of him but for all intents and purposes these are new characters dealing with a different level of fallout caused by Jason Bourne exposing Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone.

But after that I’m sad to say I can’t give THE BOURNE LEGACY any more credit after that. Matter of fact, by the time I got to the end of the movie (which has a terrific new version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways” playing over the credits) I felt the filmmakers owed me.

While Jason Bourne is in Manhattan carrying on cranky, CIA Director Kramer (Scott Glenn) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) bring in Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to help control the chaos. Turso and Byer are apparently part of a larger organization/conspiracy that has way more power than the CIA since Byer is able to sanction the dismantling of all CIA Black Ops programs. Including Operation Outcome which is genetically modifying super agents through blue and green pills that enhance physical and mental abilities via a virus that can actually restructure DNA. Byer also sanctions the assassination of all Outcome operatives.

One of these super agents, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is on a training mission in Alaska. He meets up with another operative, Number Three (Oscar Isacc) and caught by a blizzard, accepts Number Three’s invitation to stay the night. Kinda makes it easy for Byer to attempt to kill them both by using a U-CAV to blow up the cabin. Cross alone survives and somehow makes his way back to the lower 49 as he is out of blue and green pills and must get a new supply.

Virologist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is the only one who can successfully make more pills, all the rest of her colleagues having been brutally murdered in what is for me the movie’s best and most suspenseful scene. Marta barely survived that massacre and it’s only through Cross showing up at her house in time that she survives a hit team of CIA agents sent to kill her.  From then on, it’s Cross and Marta trying to stay one step ahead of various attempts to kill them. The film jumps back and forth between them and Byers, Turso and a buncha other suits in a control room that would give NASA technicians fits of envy. They spend most of their time fretting about their dirty tricks being discovered.  Really.  That’s all they do. They also yell at each other a lot. Cross and Marta don’t do nearly as much yelling but they sure do a lot of running.

I really wanted to like THE BOURNE LEGACY a lot. There isn’t an actor in this movie I don’t like or didn’t turn in a solid, professional performance. Jeremy Renner with this movie goes up a dozen rungs on the ladder to being the Next Big Action Star. Edward Norton doesn’t know how to do anything less than be terrific in any movie he’s in and Rachel Weisz is way more interesting playing a scientist than a lot of other actresses who have played brainy types.

But it’s that first hour of THE BOURNE LEGACY that sank the movie for me. Now I don’t mind a movie that makes me work and makes me think about what I’m watching but there is so much that happens in the first hour that is not explained and characters introduced and I wasn’t sure of who they were or why they were there or what they were doing or why should I care about any of it. Maybe it would have helped if I had re-watched the first three BOURNE movies before seeing this one but I don’t think that really would have helped.  The only actors from those movies who are in this one are Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Albert Finney but their appearances are little more than cameos.

John Gilroy did the editing for this movie. Now if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while you’ll note that I generally don’t mention editing unless it’s spectacularly bad and it is in this movie during the action and fight scenes. You can’t convince me that Aaron Cross is supposed to be an unstoppable fighting machine unless I can tell who he’s hitting and how he’s hitting them. Just a frantic blur of motion and bodies flying through the air don’t cut it for me. It’s not shaky-cam but it’s almost as bad.

Another thing that bothered me was the high number of innocent bystanders who get killed in this movie. If I’m correct and counted right, Aaron Cross kills at least six people who have nothing to do with the conspiracy trying to kill him and were merely people who were just doing their jobs. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And by the time I got to the ending I finally figured out why the movie is constructed the way it is. The studio is obviously so convinced this movie is going to be such a huge hit that a sequel is guaranteed and they needed to save a lot of story for that.

So should you see THE BOURNE LEGACY? I’m gonna grudgingly say yes. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s professionally made and the performances are good. But it’s just that whole confusing first hour that didn’t work for me and the poorly edited action sequences.

135 minutes

PG-13

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

 

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

This review is spoiler free as I’m pretty sure there will be some of you reading this who haven’t seen THE AVENGERS yet.  In about another month or so when more of you have seen it I’ll be rewriting the review so as to talk more in-depth about the movie.  Now if you want to read an excellent, more comprehensive review, by all means, go read Mark Bousquet’s review.  But be advised that Mark’s review has spoilers aplenty so if you’re the type who foams at the mouth at the very thought of spoilers, then don’t. 

 

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.  I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  Matter of fact, I’m sure of it.

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  If you don’t, I don’t wanna know you.  If every other movie I see this year turns out to be crap I honestly don’t care because I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13

 

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

2011

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum

Based on the television series “Mission: Impossible” created by Bruce Geller

Unlike a lot of people I really don’t have anything against the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film series.  The major argument people always throw at me is that it’s not the TV series.  Well, of course it’s not.  The only way to make it faithful to the TV series would be to get together a group of little known, semi-retired or B/C list actors in an ensemble piece.  Once I heard that Tom Cruise was going to be starring in the first one, I knew it was going to be his movie all the way.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.  America needs her own world-saving superspy and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been doing a respectable job in the four movies to date.  I liked “Mission: Impossible” directed by Brian DePalma even though I think it deplorable what they did to the Jim Phelps character.   The second one was a let-down.  If it had been any other director, it would have been a home run but I was expecting more from John Woo.  Not that “Mission: Impossible II” was a bad movie.  It was my own fault for having such high expectations.  “Mission: Impossible III” was just okay.  Again, not that it was a bad movie and I enjoyed seeing Seymour Philip Hoffman play a bad guy as much as he appeared to be enjoying it.  But ten minutes after seeing that movie, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about.

But I’m glad to be able to say that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL knocks it out of the park.  For me it’s the most satisfying and exciting of the four.  Wonderful globetrotting locations, great action, phenomenal stunts and engaging characters tied into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era James Bond movie adds up to an entertaining package.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out of a Moscow prison by IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) who need him to infiltrate The Kremlin.  Carter, Dunn and another agent, Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) were working a mission involving the interception of a courier working for a shadow agent codenamed Cobalt.  Hanaway was killed during the mission and now Jane and Benji need Ethan as a replacement to complete the mission.

The mission turns out to be a colossal set-up.  The Kremlin is blown up with Ethan and his team implicated.  The President of The United States invokes The Ghost Protocol which disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force.  Ethan and his team, along with intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are considered to be rogue agents.  Despite their having no backup at all, the four elect to pursue Cobalt and clear the IMF force.  It’s during their investigation they learn that Cobalt actually is Kurt Hendricks, a nuclear strategist who believes that nuclear war is necessary for human evolution.  He used the Kremlin bombing as a cover for his theft of a nuclear launch code device and framed the IMF so that he’d be in the clear.  From then on it’s a race against time as Ethan and his team has to stop Cobalt starting World War III.

I really enjoyed how the team aspect of the Mission: Impossible concept was used in this one.  It comes the closest to being faithful to the teamwork in the TV show as everybody on Ethan’s team is essential to the success of the mission and has their role to play.  If one person drops the ball, the mission is screwed.  Add to that the fact that Ethan has never worked with them before.  He’s in a situation where he has to trust them and get them to mesh together as a smoothly functioning machine.  In the previous three movies we’re constantly told what a great team leader Ethan Hunt is but this is the first time that we actually see him working at it.

The movie also has something the previous three didn’t have: some much needed humor thanks to Simon Pegg.  Thankfully, he doesn’t overdo the comedy relief.  He does just enough to enable us to laugh and relax a bit.  Especially during some of the exhilarating and truly harrowing action sequences such as the climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower.  If you have any kind of fear of heights at all, this scene will definitely leave you with no fingernails as I can guarantee you’ll chew them all off while watching.

The story takes some really clever twists and turns and there are resolutions to the sub-plots I honestly didn’t see coming, most notably the sub-plot involving the Jeremy Renner character.  And I loved the opening credits which pays homage to the opening credits of the TV show.

So should you see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL?  If you’ve seen the first three then you probably already have.  If you’ve never seen any the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films then this is a good one to start with.  You don’t have to worry about not having seen the first three to understand this as the writers and director get you up to speed on everything you need to know.  And with this movie, Brad Bird, who has done animated features such as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” shows that he’s an action director to watch.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL is a terrific action picture.  Go watch and enjoy.

133 minutes

PG-13