Category Archives: Film

The Bourne Legacy

This review contains spoilers for the Bourne films.

At the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum, the killing of journalist Simon Ross sets off a chain of events that lead to a satisfying conclusion to the Bourne Trilogy.  The same event in The Bourne Legacy is the catalyst for a less thrilling story of the other super-soldiers in CIA enhancement programs that make Treadstone and Blackbriar look positively unambitious and slovenly.

We are introduced to Operation Outcome through a few expository scenes and it quickly becomes obvious that all of the enhancement programs that can be linked to Treadstone or Blackbriar are going to be shut down.  What this means in practice is that all of the human resources are going to be liquidated whereas all of the research and paperwork is going to be shifted to some other part of the CIA, where I’m sure it will be safe, to be started again as soon as the fuss dies down.  Of course killing all of your field operatives is a little messy; we’ve seen over three other films that it’s not as easy as it looks and things tend to blow up in the CIA’s face when they try it, but hey, here’s hoping they can do a better job this time.

Operation Outcome is all about infiltrating hard to infiltrate places, like North Korea and Pakistan, with brainwashed sleeper agents.  Outcome agents have also been infected with a targeted virus administered through two pills, a blue pill that increases intelligence and a green pill that makes you physically stronger, heal faster and react more quickly.  It’s not entirely clear why infiltrating spies need super-strength or what Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross, would be infiltrating as a whiter-than-white all-American GI Joe type, but let’s not quibble over minor details.

It turns out the CIA has learnt something from Jason Bourne; the easiest way to kill the Outcome agents is to switch their medication.   Outcome agent handlers switch the blue and green pills with a single yellow pill and explain to the agents that they’ve changed the medication program.  The pills kill the agents within a few hours, leaving unexplained dead bodies of young, physically fit people all over the world to be examined, investigated, etc., and no other loose ends.  Why the CIA felt the need to have an entirely different pill, with the possibility that the agents might think that it’s a bit suspect, when they could have achieved the same effect by tampering with the blue or green pill is a further mystery.

In comparison to the method chosen to kill Cross the pill switch seems relatively sensible.  Cross has holed up with another Outcome agent in a Log Cabin in Alaska, and after a few hours of ridiculously engineered tension (why did Cross lie?  Why did the other agent take offence?), they hear something on the wind.  Using movie sixth sense, Cross and Agent 3 decide that it’s something weird and start to move to positions away from the cabin, just in case.  Cross is just out of the door when a drone-delivered missile destroys the cabin and Agent 3.  Why didn’t the CIA just supply more fake medicine in the drone, which would probably have been cheaper, less destructive and less likely to fail?  Still, in for a penny and all that, when it fails to work once, the CIA come round for a second pass, and when the Drone is destroyed by Cross with a hunting rifle, they send another drone for a third attempt.  Cross has figured out that it’s the CIA that are after him at this point, so uses some tinfoil and a metal plate to cover up the GPS tracker surgically implanted in his abdomen, which of course he would know about.  Miraculously, this works, and after some quick surgery to remove the tracker and a fight with a wolf to place said tracker in the belly of the beast, Cross is able to evade destruction and makes his way to civilisation, weak from loss of blood, with no supplies, 300 miles from the nearest human being…

I’ll dispense with the rest of the plot for brevity’s sake.  It doesn’t really matter what happens, as you’ve seen it all before, done better, most recently in the other Bourne films.  Morally bankrupt CIA spook and attendant flunkies – Check.  Frightened government functionary targeted for death – check.  The even-more-upgraded-super-soldier sent to kill the protagonist – check.  Rooftop chase in third-world country – check.  What does matter is that the film doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t resolve in a satisfying way.  The most frustrating thing is that it doesn’t even attempt to do so.  The climax of the film is a chase/fight between Cross and LARX-03, the even-more-upgraded-super-soldier who is introduced an hour before the end of the film, doesn’t say a single word of dialogue and surprises the CIA section head with his existence as much as the audience.  There is no direct interaction between Cross and Edward Norton’s character, Byer, the main antagonist, except in flashback and there is no resolution to their personal story.

All of the antagonists at the start of the film are still there at the end, in much more secure positions thanks to the brutal evisceration of Pamela Landy’s character throughout the film, and the only significant changes to the status quo are that Cross has got a girlfriend and he no longer needs to take the blue and green pills.  The signal to the audience that the film is over is Moby.  I’m not kidding, the first indication that the film is near the end is the synth string opening to ‘Extreme Ways’.  Again.  And then the credits run.

I spent most of the film asking questions that had no reasonable answers.  Why did Cross steal the watch from the factory supervisor?  So he could obviously bribe someone with it later, despite having $40,000 in his jacket.  Why didn’t the CIA kill Marta when they arrived at her house and stage the suicide later?  Because Cross wouldn’t have been able to save her if they had been smart.  Why is LARX-03 still operational when all the other enhancement programs have been shut down?  There’d be no-one for Cross to throw down with in the finale otherwise.  

The film makers had a real opportunity to do something different.  The first three Bourne movies are largely about who Jason Bourne is, both in terms of his real name and identity and what kind of man he was and becomes.  What little thematic interest there is in The Bourne Legacy is based around the same ideas.  Byer talks about how the enhanced soldiers are sin-eaters and Cross struggles with his lack of intelligence before the enhancement, both clearly setting up similar questions of moral culpability and identity, but, as with most things in the film, they are not explored in great depth.  By changing the main character they could have kept playing in the Bourne universe and explored other aspects of the spy genre.  Does it always have to be two people being chased by the CIA?

Maybe that’s the real genre of the Bourne films: two-people-being-chased-by-the-CIA.  That’s where I’ve gone wrong.  If you like two-people-being-chased-by-the-CIA films, you’re in for a treat, easily one of the top four two-people-being-chased-by-the-CIA films of all time.  OF ALL TIME!

In Time

The great question that drives Sci-Fi literature is what if?  In Time posits the scenario that it is possible to arrest a person’s physical deterioration in the prime of their life at 25.  The only downside is that Time, not money, becomes the global currency.  Everyone is gifted a single year at birth, which starts to run down the moment the individual reaches twenty-five, and can get more Time by working.  To keep track of your remaining Time, a subcutaneous green LED is installed in your arm, a handy torch in times of need but a lousy way of conspicuously showboating your wealth.

What if you could live forever?

Time as a currency is a great concept, and the film tries to explore what that would mean for the people living in that type of world.  The bits that work in this film are those examining this conceit, the idea that people are now explicitly working to live is heavy-handed but effective and the global cabal of super-rich immortals managing the system is intriguing.

One of the great joys of any sci-fi film is to see how the world has been altered from our own and trying to figure out the reasons for those alterations.  If you can see how the filmmaker’s choices flow from the ‘What If’ then the film is halfway there.  Problems arise when the choices don’t appear to be obviously related to the central premise or directly contradict what reasonable viewer might expect in the circumstances.  As I watched In Time I started thinking about the choices made by the filmmakers and came up with a few questions about the world itself.  I think in the main the world of the film behaves consistently, but I just think it is consistently incorrect in its basic premises of what a Time based economic future world would look like.

Where are the mobile phones?  There are a bunch of times in this film when using a mobile phone would save countless lives.  Where have they all gone?  The conceit that a minute of talk time would cost not just a minute of your life but also an additional minute to pay for the call is pretty funny and dark.  It would destroy the tension in the film though, so mobile phones have uninvented in the In Time universe.  The Internet also appears to be completely absent from this world too, but that’s not a major plot point….

Why are some time transactions done wirelessly and some require physical contact?  Why store Time in vaults?  It’s shown that individuals can easily wire Time from one location to another, so why would you need to store Time physically?  And if you can wire Time electronically, why can’t you wire from one individual to another?  The Time system employs contactless technology, why isn’t it possible to control Time via a mobile network?  It would be easier to control the masses if you could easily freeze their assets, so to speak, and also ensure that you’re never caught short away from the bank, as so often happens in this film.  Again, current technology has been uninvented to make the story work.

How do people younger than 25 pay for anything?  It is clearly shown twice that the individuals clock only starts running at the age of 25, and in both cases it is clear that they are starting with exactly one year left to run.  How have they managed to survive for so long without being able to buy anything or gain any additional Time?  I’m guessing that the world doesn’t allow under-25’s unrestricted access to anything they want, so do they have rationed supplies or some other means of sustenance?  If I knew that my clock was running at 25, I’d want to get a head start and start working early, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Why set up the system in such a way that people can steal time so easily?  Firstly, in the middle part of the film the protagonists go on a bank-robbing spree in a series of jobs that clearly echo Bonnie & Clyde.  Given that they are amateurs, with only two pistols, and that current banks are sophisticated buildings designed to stop that sort of thing, why are the future banks so easily robbed?  Have people forgotten how to lock safes? Secondly, throughout the film it is shown that you can steal Time from individuals by making physical contact, it is even implied that you could steal Time from someone sleeping without their consent.  A sure-fire way of protecting yourself from physical harm is to ensure that there is no way to steal Time this way.  I could understand if there was a piece of black market technology employed by the Minutemen to steal Time, this would actually be pretty cool, but there is no explanation for the ridiculous ease of Time stealing.

Aside from the Time Keepers, can anyone else alter the amount of Time someone has?  Could someone hack himself or herself to become immortal?  Clearly the Time Keepers are monitoring the amount of Time in the system, but enterprising ‘criminals’ would sure devise a method of counterfeiting/laundering Time, given the shoddy nature of the banking sector.

Why do people just stop?  Is there a kill switch implanted in the individual?  Leaving aside the ridiculous notion that any sane person would willingly allow themselves to enter into this devil’s bargain, how is this regulated?  Has the entire human race been genetically engineered to work this way or is the technology implanted at birth?  As it is a global economy, I’d assume that the human race has been genetically engineered with this kill-switch, otherwise there would be an out for anyone willing to have a natural birth, and who wouldn’t want that in the ghetto of Dayton?  If you could eke out a subsistence existence from the land, why get involved in the Time economy at all?  Why subject your child to the horror of this system?

I’m trying to think of why some of these things are the way they are, and I think its because the film maker’s want to use the way Time as a currency works as a direct metaphor for how Money works now.  Because of this they have to have Time be as easily disposable, stealable and storable as money is now.  Money can be in the form of a coin in your pocket, a series of digits in a computer or a block of gold in a central bank.  In Time wants to mirror these so that it can have bank robberies, Time theft and still have a massive linked global economy, but the problem is, if you were to start from scratch, which they obviously would need to do, why would you copy the current system?  All of its flaws are obvious and could be designed out if you could start again.

If you were in this situation where people are clearly dying around you, you had an ever present clock telling you when you were going to die and nothing to lose except the eight hours you had left, why the fuck wouldn’t you try to take something back from the bastards who have everything?  This is my main problem with this film.  One of the things that stops revolutions is the fear that you’ve still got something to lose.  If you’ve clearly got nothing to lose, or at the least only a few hours left to live, why wouldn’t you do something about it?  Dayton is a shit place to live, where there is essentially nothing to do except be jumped/killed by gangsters and/or work in a crappy job which screws you over when you don’t make quota.  The world isn’t shown to be oppressive enough to stop any sort of real resistance, as the first two that try are a metal shop worker and a dizzy socialite and they succeed in crashing the global economy without any support.  The question isn’t why they succeeded, but why no one else tried before them?  I can’t think of a reasonable answer.