The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Redundancy” was the title that Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two Jason Bourne movies, proposed for any future installment. When you’ve successfully turned Robert Ludlum’s page-tuning spy novels into three genre-defining blockbusters, and titled the last film “Ultimatum”, where do you go from there? If you're Universal Pictures, you find a way to keep on going.

Rather than start from scratch with a new property, which would require acquainting the audience through expensive marketing, director Tony Gilroy, who scripted the original trilogy, has found a different approach for The Bourne Legacy: spinning off a parallel story that places a new character in Bourne’s cinematic universe, at the same time. Smooth-cheeked amnesiac Matt Damon has been substituted by Jeremy Renner’s squatter, lumpier Aaron Cross. If you’re going to make a Bourne movie without Damon, Renner isn’t a bad choice, but the results are less a thrilling reimagining of a popular franchise and more an exercise in squeezing the last toothpaste out of the tube. Renner is game, and there are a scattered few moments that approach the power and persuasion of the original but the overall mood is rehashed and redundant.

Gilroy opens his story with an echo of the curtain-raising shot in Doug Liman’s first Bourne film, as a body floats in clear blue water. The floater is Cross, in Alaska on a solo survival course equipped with only a powerful rifle and a pillbox filled with blue and green tablets. He is part of a CIA programme that develops better soldiers through chemistry; super-strong, steroidal geniuses with lightning-fast reflexes and endless stamina. When the spy is ready to come in from the cold, he makes his rendezvous with a fellow agent (Oscar Isaac) in a remote cabin, awaiting transport back to Washington. Instead, an unmanned drone descends through a flurry of snow and blows the place to bits. Having made it out alive, Cross makes the long trek home to discover he is one of nine super-agents whose spymasters (led by a grizzled Edward Norton and a whiskey-swilling Stacy Keach) have decided are now surplus to requirements. Now classified as a dangerous rogue agent and cut off from his supply of medication, Cross seeks out Dr Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a medical scientist at a secret laboratory where the selected agents are tested and dosed.

When he finds her, the good doctor has just survived a mysterious shooting at the hands of a seemingly hypnotised colleague. Without his medication, the preternaturally agile Cross would revert back to his ordinary, everyday dull-mindedness, like the experimental subject in Flowers for Algernon. As the one link to the drugs, and with his powers slowly fading, Cross must convince Marta to escape with him. Her mind is made up when a tense interrogation with a seemingly kindly psychologist turns into another, even more deadly shootout. Somehow they must find their way to a clandestine drug factory on the other side of the world, with the massed weight of the CIA and their fantastic surveillance technology hot on their trail. There are glimpses of Matt Damon’s Bourne on television news reports and cameos from returning characters but none of that back-story feels connected to the frantic events unfolding.

Renner’s everyman anonymity worked to his advantage for his breakout role in The Hurt Locker but here he is overly convincing as a superhuman killing machine, robotic and efficient but burdened by an underwritten motivation and lacking any emotional ante. Gilroy’s script, co-written with his brother Dan, doesn’t help, with the story delivered in two-sentence chunks that follow a discernable, repetitive pattern: Norton glowers at a glowing computer screen and arranges his face in a pensive pinch while Renner and Weisz kick down doors and shoot off guns.

The limitless surveillance power of the agency is convincingly realised but smothered in a babble of jargon while the action sequences have all the jumpy, crunchy verisimilitude that money can buy but no cinematic point (which, of course, money cannot buy). In the closing stages Gilroy introduces an Asian super-villain with extraordinary staying-power who trails Renner and Weisz on a crushingly familiar chase over the vibrant roof-tops of a developing country, as the clock ticks slowly on and interest levels flat-line. We’ve seen it all before, and better, in the Bourne franchise. At one point, the words “no more” appear scrawled in eyeliner on a mirror, a promise nobody involved has any intention of keeping.


Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane brings all the comic crudeness and pop culture satire of Peter Griffin and his scatological chums to his big screen debut, Ted, the surprisingly sentimental story of a fraternal romance between a thirty-something man-child and his magical teddy bear.

A short pre-credits sequence, sonorously narrated by Patrick Stewart, introduces John (played later by Mark Wahlberg), a lonely boy growing up friendless in the suburbs of snowy Boston. On Christmas night in 1985 John makes a wish on a falling star, yearning for just one pal in the world. Magically, his beloved teddy-bear Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) comes to life. The boy and his bear become best friends, promising to always be there for one another through thick and thin.

John isn’t the only person who loves the talkative stuffed toy. The novelty of a real live teddy turns Ted into a celebrity overnight with a Forrest Gump-like montage showing his rise and fall from chat-show couches to handcuffed walks of shame. Back in Boston and doing nothing all day but smoke marijuana, lay about on the couch and continue arresting John’s development, Ted is at a loose end. More than that, he’s become a bit of a pest, particularly where John’s high-flying girlfriend Lori (Family Guy cast member Mila Kunis) is concerned. Short version, she wants her man to grow up and wants Ted stuffed in a box and thrown in an attic somewhere.

MacFarlane’s animated output has been criticised for favouring easy pop culture references over trickier character-based comedy, but the funniest stuff in Ted derives from the relationship between the Wahlberg’s innocent child-man and his adorably maladjusted teddy bear. Having never evolved beyond the nursery, the two characters are content to hang out and mess about with MacFarlane revelling in that easy, uncomplicated friendship, a chemistry that carries the story over the bumps in the inconsistent plot.

The romantic triangle that comprises the plot isn’t exactly earth-shatteringly original, but its MacFarlane’s unique comic trimmings that give the film its edge. Although Ted isn’t a million miles from Peter Griffin – at one point referencing the fact they sound awfully alike – MacFarlane has an enthusiast’s zeal for politically incorrect comedy and the perfect conduit in the seemingly innocent bear. The script’s targets run the gamut: sex, religion, race, drugs and endless pop culture references including a running joke about the pair’s abiding affection for Mike Hodges 80s camp sci-fi Flash Gordon and a cameo appearance from its one-hit wonder leading man, Sam Jones. For fans of the ten seasons of Family Guy, none of this will come as a shock, although the novelty of the material being delivered by a three foot tall talking teddy is not insignificant.

Freed from the restrictions of the television censors, with a 16 certificate MacFarlane can do and say what he likes. And he does. Live action filmmaking also gives him the chance to show that he can work with real actors, and he does this pretty well too, nimbly combining the real world with the computer-animated Ted and making the central relationships, between life-long friends and Kunis’s no-nonsense Lori feel real and well developed. What proves more difficult is turning 23 minutes of a cartoon episode into an hour and a half of cinema, which requires a different tempo and a more focused attention span, with the film sagging distractedly in the middle. But for all that, Ted is consistently funny, in a summer where so many other comedies have failed to raise a laugh.

The Dark Knight Rises

Director Christopher Nolan fulfils the promise made in the first two instalments of his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, his circle-closing finale that isn’t just the year’s most anticipated blockbuster, but an epic in every conceivable way: almost three hours long, crammed with dense, sticky plot, thrilling action and gripping spectacle. With this extraordinary film, Nolan has raised the bar for genre cinema beyond all expectation: taken together, these three films make every other superhero adventure look like crayon drawings stuck to a fridge.

Not that Nolan ever intended his Batman to be a superman. From the opening frames of the first film, 2005s Batman Begins and on into the sequel, The Dark Knight, he has asked the question, ‘what if all this was for real?’ His vision for Gotham city looks like a cross between New York and Chicago, because those are the grand streets he shot on; places that feel palpably real. Eschewing trendy 3D, Nolan instead concentrates on creating three-dimensional characters that are psychologically complex, dark and conflicted. He uses digital effects sparingly, with much of the spectacular stunt-work done in-camera to emphasise danger and suspense and add an unnerving authenticity that computers cannot yet match. The Batman’s weaponry and gadgetry are a close fit for real-world military technologies while the narratives, co-written by Nolan with his brother Jonathan and screenwriter David S Goyer, marry the tropes of the superhero character with tangible issues; terrorism, corruption, economic collapse and class warfare.

Nolan’s achievement is to combine all this in a cutting-edge superhero blockbuster and still maintain a singular, auteurist vision. His Batman is a deeply personal story of a character that, since his conception in the pages of Detective Comics in 1939, has belonged to everyone. Unusually for modern mass-market cinema, where trailers are viewed millions of times within minutes of being uploaded to the internet, Nolan keeps the details of his story a secret. There’s no reason to reveal much more than he already has.

Although it’s only been four years since the release of the last film, eight years have elapsed in Gotham city. An injured Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has squirreled himself away in his mansion, suspiciously around the same time that Batman has disappeared. As the previous installment ended, the caped crusader had been blamed for the death of Gotham’s great liberator, Harvey Dent, who the public believe had cleansed the city of organised crime. With his people having turned their backs on him, and his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) worried about his mental health, Batman is dragged back into his rubber suit by the simultaneous appearance of two masked villains, slinky, super-skilled cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, never referred to as Catwoman) and the hulking mercenary terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy), who wears a complicated breathing apparatus that gives his voice a sinister, crackling echo.

Bane has come, seemingly from nowhere, to cause mayhem. His goal is anarchy and he has a simple plan for bringing it about. First, he needs to lure Batman out of retirement and then he means to kill him. Standing in his way are the series’ returning characters, technical expert Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and new faces, graduates from Nolan’s franchise-breaking Inception, noble-hearted philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s resourceful cop John Blake.

The rest of it is a highlight reel of the very best in epic cinema; intelligent, grippingly told and painstakingly crafted. Individual sequences are breathtakingly realised; a thunderous chase along crowded streets and through darkened tunnels, a thrilling attack on a crowded football stadium that acts as a shorthand for chaos, a pitched battle on Gotham’s equivalent of Wall Street that might have been taken from a news bulletin. The only moments that feel false are those unavoidable places where the requirement to push the story along in chunks of easily digested block text breaks the immersive spell that Nolan and Bale have crafted. It might be a little ungainly in execution but the plot, arcing across three lengthy films, is meticulously mapped and contains at least one superbly concealed surprise. Nolan and Bale have made it absolutely clear that they will not return to Batman, even though the final sequence indicates the likely direction an offshoot franchise by Warner Bros will inevitably take.

Magic Mike

In 2010 American director Steven Soderbergh declared he was about to retire from filmmaking. Since then, he has released three films in cinemas; low-budget, naturalistic examinations of shadowy, unseen worlds. There was the panic-stricken epidemic thriller Contagion, which brought us inside the laboratory as a virus threatens to end the world, the clandestine arena of international espionage in Haywire and now a peek behind the glittering curtain of male strippers in the funny, enjoyable Magic Mike, a film about money.

Based on star Channing Tatum’s experiences as an 18 year old exotic dancer in a Florida nightclub, Magic Mike opens with the now almost 30 year old as he wakes up, surrounded by women, in his Tampa home. An entrepreneurial spirit, Mike juggles a day job as a building contractor and a sideline in custom furniture manufacture with being the main attraction at a small-time, beach-side strip club called Xquisite. The club’s owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) has taken the young man under his wing, promoting him as the club’s main attraction, dressing him in overalls and hoodies as a blue-collar working stiff, to the whooping delight of his female clientele. Mike is a big star and makes big money. Dallas has plans to make him even bigger, moving the club to a bigger site in Miami where four thousand women will be given the chance to stuff his g-strings with sweaty dollar bills every night.

Having been mentored himself, Mike in turn acts as protector to Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a broke and desperate youngster he meets on a building site. He takes him out to the nightclubs and instructs him in the art of hustling customers for the strip-club, before a series of comical accidents lead the 19 year old to make his stripping debut. Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a level-headed nurse, is not convinced that the change in direction is the best thing for the naïve teenager, but she trusts Mike when he says he will look after him. Soon, the club’s newest act has fans of his own and the summer season stretches before them filled with easy money, all-night parties and endless girls, set to a shrill, synthetic soundtrack.

Soderbergh does his best to balance the squeal-friendly dance routines with narrative substance, as the young men become involved in some unsavoury business dealings with dangerous people, but the off-stage story struggles to catch a spark. Magic Mike only truly takes off when focusing on the baby-oil skin and ritualized bumps and grinds of its muscled protagonists, with Soderbergh gradually revealing the repetitive, soul-destroying nature of the performances, where the men willingly trade their sexuality for crumpled cash. A scene where Tatum sits in his living room, ironing out the wads of currency and weighing them down with a book is balanced later by a moment where McConaughey lies supine on the stage and his audience shower him with bills.

Tatum, best known as an almost-silent presence in a series of dull action films, reveals an unsuspected depth as the titular hunk, gradually realising that his time as a stripper is running out and he has no back-up plan. But it’s McConaughey who steals the show as the heavily-varnished Dallas, throwing himself into the role with a cocky swagger with more than a hint of self-parody. Bound to find an appreciative audience among the hen-party set, Magic Mike is more than just a parade of bulging beefcake, but a witty, moral story about cold hard cash and commodified sex. The only trick Soderbergh misses is not presenting the film in 3D.