Tag Archives: Edward Norton

“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Studios

Hulk smash puny critic! 

Bruce Banner is not a hero. One would be wrong for mistaking him as one. He is not proud or triumphant, he doesn’t wear a cape, and he doesn’t “save the day” as someone like Superman or Batman would. No, Bruce is a timid, shallow, and fearful young fellow, one that grips with a double-persona in him that’s angry, destructive, and vengeful all at once. His story is not one of happiness or hopefulness. It is in essence a tragedy, not unlike that of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, except in this case Mr. Hyde is a giant, green raging monster that says “Hulk smash!” every time he punches something.

In this second go-around at adapting one of comic book’s most recognizable characters, The Incredible Hulk retells Banner’s transformation into Marvel’s not-so-jolly green giant, with Fight Club actor Edward Norton taking the part over from Erica Bana this time around. In this iteration of the Hulk, Bruce is on the run from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and the U.S. military, who wants to take Banner’s gamma-radiated blood and weaponize it for their own uses. Desperate for a cure for his angry, green, muscle-infused transformation, Banner enlists in the help of his lover Betty (Liv Tyler) and Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) to search for a cure, finally freeing himself from the monster within that is the incredible Hulk.

Since this is the second live-action adaptation of the Hulk in less than five years, it’s only fair to assume the comparison’s viewers are going to make from this version to Ang Lee’s Hulk released in 2003. As this is the case, you should know that I wasn’t a fan of that version. I did like a lot of things about it: the nuanced, quietly disturbed performances of Eric Bana and Nick Nolte, the creative comic book panel-esque transitions between shots, and the exploration of disturbed psychology developed from childhood trauma. There were a lot of creative elements in that film, and Lee deserves credit for at least branching out and trying new things in the superhero genre.

The key issue with that film was the pacing. The run time dragged out grudgingly, many shots didn’t pertain to what was going on in its scenes, and the movie just simply wasn’t fun. It was interesting for sure, but it lacked the suspense and excitement needed for a movie like Hulk to work. Observe, for instance, if Spider-Man or X-Men dragged out at the exasperating pace as Hulk did. Those movies would get boring pretty quickly, wouldn’t they?

I start my review by reliving the previous’ strengths and failures because The Incredible Hulk embodies the exact opposite of those. Hulk was an insightful, if meandering drama that had moments of superhero action in it. The Incredible Hulk is a full-blooded gamma-radiated monster-thriller that enthusiastically smashes through as much property damage as it can cause. It isn’t dramatic, insightful, or even significantly moving, and neither is it required to be. Part of a movie’s success is by playing to its strengths and weaknesses, and The Incredible Hulk demonstrates a sound understanding of both.

The crucial element to this is director Louis Leterrier, who helmed the first two Transporter movies before The Incredible Hulk. Framing it as an homage to the Bill Bixby 1978 television series, Leterrier plays the film’s elements to his advantage, pulling out thrills and excitement in the slightest of methods. Take, for instance, an early chase scene involving Banner, Ross, and a squad of military soldiers. Despite how it’s essentially another generic movie chase, the sequence was surprisingly thrilling, and that’s because of all of the elements in play here. The editing from Apocalypto’s John Wright was quick-paced and attentive, cutting briskly between each character’s perspective while at the same time not losing focus on the action. The music by Craig Armstrong is suspenseful and riveting, building up to a thematic opera that evokes the same sensation of those classic 1980’s monster movies. And the cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. perfectly captures Bruce’s paranoia in this scene, with his biggest concern being not evading the soldiers or getting out unscathed, but rather not becoming so tense to the point where he transforms and causes harm to the people around him.

Leterrier uses these elements to turn seemingly simple moments into extraordinary ones, heightening tension and escalating excitement. Imagine what happens when Bruce breaks out into anger and goes Hulk destructive on everything in his path? While the smaller moments work surprisingly well, the film’s real value comes in its visual spectacle, where Hulk rams into soldiers, lifts and crushes cars, leaps and climbs tall structures, roars like a wild animal, and angrily smashes into as many objects as he can. In most action movies, the protagonist is usually in the more vulnerable position and has to face impossible odds stacked against him. I find it interesting that in this context the role is reversed and that Hulk’s enemies are the ones at a disadvantage against this giant, ruthless behemoth. It develops an interesting catharsis for the character, or at least, as much as it can possess in the midst of mindless superhero monster action violence.

The performances, while serviceable, are nothing spectacular enough to be memorable. The story is uninspired and feels stock compared to other action thrillers (seriously, read the script and tell me how much it reminds you of Jason Bourne). And while the final fight in the movie is climactic and exciting, the movie’s villain is just a mirror match to the Hulk and has no personal investment beyond that.

Still, how much you end up liking The Incredible Hulk depends on what you’re looking for in a Hulk movie to begin with. For me, I’m looking for action, and lots of it. The Incredible Hulk has that in spades. While not narratively impressive, The Incredible Hulk has enough dynamic action, awe-inspiring spectacle, and reckless destruction that makes you root for the big, angry green giant regardless. At the very least, let’s agree that this version of the Hulk is better than Ang Lee’s variation. I reiterate: the catchphrase is “Hulk Smash,” not “Hulk Talk You To Death.”

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The Unexpected Virtue of Being Nominated

I am never more conflicted with myself than when Oscar nominations are released. It’s the same time every single year, and every time I look at them I feel a strange combination of pride and disappointment. Of course many actors and filmmakers are nominated across the board, and most of them are well deserved. But then there are always a good amount of snubs that are equally undeserved. Example: Since when does The Fault In Our Stars, Interstellar and The Lego Movie deserve zero nominations in any of the major categories?

Snubs happen every year. I expect it at this point. But what I find particularly interesting is that this year’s ceremonies are more well-rounded in their nominations. The eight best picture nominees, for instance, are also the pictures with the most nominations in the show. I think that reflects well on the Academy, especially because the best picture award isn’t won by only being nominated for best original song.

Regardless, the nominees have been released and the Oscars race has officially begun. Here are all of the best picture nominees.

Birdman

Otherwise known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s black comedy epic stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a struggling stage actor who is desperately trying to escape his image as formerly portraying a superhero. Considering the irony that Keaton has been most known for playing Batman in Tim Burton’s movies, I can’t help but think he relates more to the film than he lets on. Birdman is nominated in nine categories, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography, best sound editing and mixing, and best acting awards for Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A surprise standout out of the other nominees, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a comedic escapade about Concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who is framed for the murder of one of his hotel guests and for stealing her most cherished painting. As he tries to outrun law enforcement and the family assassins that are after him, he teams up with his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence. Written and directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom), The Grand Budapest Hotel has already won best comedy at the Golden Globes, so it is off to a good start in the Oscars race. The film ties with Birdman with nine nominations, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography, best costume design, best editing, best makeup and hairstyling, best original score, and best production design.

The Imitation Game

This historical epic stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, a brilliant physicist during WWII who worked with a team to crack Enigma, a German processing machine which masks German messages through cryptographic messages. Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum and also starring Keira Knightly, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong, The Imitation Game is nominated for eight academy awards, including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best editing, best original score, best production, best actor for Benedict Cumberbatch and best supporting actress for Keira Knightly.

American Sniper

Based on the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), American Sniper tells his story working for the U.S. military, and the 120 kills he garnered throughout his military career. Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall, American Sniper is a late entry to the Oscars race, but it came out strong regardless. American Sniper is nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best sound editing and mixing, and best actor for Bradley Cooper.

Boyhood

The 12 year epic that everyone is talking about, and the movie everyone is dying to see. Boyhood follows the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood to adulthood, through puberty, love, heartache, loss, and life. Richard Linklater directs Coltrane among others through this masterfully crafted drama, filmed over the period of 12 years. Ambitious both in production and vision, Boyhood was nominated for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best film editing, and best supporting actor and actress for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette.

The Theory of Everything

The fluffy, inspirational adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s life, The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne as King and Felicity Jones as his wife Jane, and follows their relationship from college to their marriage, and covers the issues that they’ve had to face together. I personally didn’t find this film to be as imposing as the other nominees, but Redmayne’s performance and the film’s intentions are definitely something to be admired. The film is nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best original score, and best actor and best actress for Redmayne and Jones.

Whiplash

One of the best under-the-radar films of the year. Whiplash follows Andrew (Miles Teller), a young college student who is enrolled in an orchestra and is working to be the best drummer there is. His teacher is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a narcissist conductor who treats his students like he is Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. As their rivalrous relationship builds to a tense climax, both men learn more about themselves as artists and teachers to each other. Written and directed by independent filmmaker Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is one of the year’s most standout films. Featuring strong performances from its leads and masterful direction from Chazelle, Whiplash is nominated for best picture, best editing, best sound mixing, and best supporting actor for J.K. Simmons. The movie is also nominated for best adapted screenplay, even though it’s an original idea crafted by Chazelle.

Selma

Directed by Ava Duvernay and starring David Oyewolo as Martin Luther King Jr., Selma follows the civil rights movement as it builds to a climax in the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The interesting thing about this film is that it only has two nominations for the evening: best picture and best original song for John Legend and Common’s “Glory.” If that is the logic behind the nominations, should Selma even be nominated for best picture? It’s more than deserving of the nomination, but it certainly isn’t great just because of the song that’s in it. Where’s the best director nomination? Best actor? Best screenplay? I feel like this movie had potential in many different categories at the Oscars, and it was snubbed for mostly all of them. It’s an utter shame to see so many great films get snubbed at the Academy Awards, and this film perhaps has been snubbed the most out of all of them.

Other films that were nominated in other categories include Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, Into The Woods, Unbroken, The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. We can gripe more about which films deserved which nominations later on, but for now, let’s be excited that Barney Stinson is hosting the awards.

– David Dunn

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“BIRDMAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The artist’s struggle, all in one take. 

Birdman, or otherwise known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is one of the most mesmerizing films I’ve ever seen. It is also one of the most unique, disturbing, shocking, and confusing films I’ve ever seen too. That’s okay. This film was reaching for a specific vision, and director Alejandro Inarritu has expanded beyond it. I admit I don’t know what to expect as far as the public reacting to this, and I also don’t know how accessible it is to non-film aficionados either. But I have seen the movie frame by frame, and I think it’s one of the best films of its kind. On the surface value, it’s about the struggles of Broadway theatre. In deeper insight, it’s about ego and the obsessive human condition.

The film stars Michael Keaton as washed-up actor Riggan Thompson, who has been forgotten by his adoring public after portraying the lead role in a series of superhero films titled Birdman. This is ironic, because in real life, Keaton portrayed a superhero in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. Desperate for a comeback, Thompson sets out to write, direct and star in his favorite Broadway play: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

Things immediately hit the fan during the week of their first preview. One of Riggan’s actors gets a head injury from a loose light on the set. His replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is a talented but brash and arrogant actor who sees himself as Riggan’s superior. And, as he faces personal problems with his estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan begins to feel the closing pressures of Broadway when a malicious theatre critic tells him she’s going to “kill his play.” Now Riggan is trying to keep the play and his sanity afloat, and he will make whatever sacrifices he needs to make sure both happens.

Written, directed and produced by Inarritu, Birdman is the first black comedy made by the filmmaker, his most successful films to date being Oscar nominees Babel and Biutiful. Now he has made Birdman, and I am tempted to say it’s the best film he’s made yet.

What worked so well with the film? The first thing is the editing and the cinematography, which was shot so wonderfully by Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki that it places you in the moment, in the reality of the film, not making you watch it from a cushion seat on the eighth row of a dark movie theater. Lubezki, who worked with Inarritu on short films in the past, decided to shoot the film and edit it into a continuous fashion, giving off the illusion that the entire film was filmed in one take. Even though the movie wasn’t filmed in one shot, the feeling it gives off makes it feel alive and moving, not unlike the world of theatre that Riggan is trying to prove himself in.

I wonder how much effort this takes, not just from the cinematographer and director’s point of view, but from everyone else involved in the film as well. How many hours did the actors need to rehearse their lines in order to get their roles right? How much pressure was the tech and lighting crew under while they were filming, knowing that if they screwed up, everyone would have to start back to square one? How many hours did film editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione have to sit in front of a computer, making sure the shots transitioned so well that you couldn’t even see the transitions? The illusion not only worked because of the idea that Lubezki and Inarritu offered, but because of the commitment it received from everyone involved with the film. In many ways, their efforts were all worth it: the camerawork here expresses more of the story than the character’s dialogue does.

The parallels in this movie are also ingenious. How does Keaton feel playing as Riggan Thompson in the movie, knowing that he reached international fame as Batman earlier in his career and having since then never been able to match a more recognized role? How does Inarritu feel, going through all of the production pressures Riggan did in making the play as he himself did in making the movie? Did he intend this movie as self-reflection? Is he telling the audience what he goes through daily as a filmmaker? Or is he using his struggles as a platform to tell a much deeper, more important story to the audience?

For me, I don’t get as much joy out of interpreting as much as I do out of experiencing. And make no mistake: Birdman is an experience, surreal, tantalizing, and thought-provoking all at once. I’m still sitting here, hours later, not quite fully realizing what exactly Inarritu was trying to portray in this film. Is he commenting on the artist’s struggle? Commercial vs. independent film? Fatherhood? Friendship? Family? Lost love?

I think it’s all of the above. Or maybe none of the above. I honestly don’t know. In the movie, Inarritu battles labels that are placed on artists and on the art that they produce. Is Riggan Thompson a superhero, or an actor portraying a superhero? Is he a former shell of who he is, or a flower that has yet to bloom? We see in this film how these labels influence his life and how much stress and anxiety it presses upon him. To put labels on the movie would contradict Inarritu’s intentions. It would be offensive to the film.

My bottom line: Birdman is a masterpiece. It is so distinct in its own language and style that I think it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Critics will applaud it for it’s technical and emotional achievements. It will definitely garner some Oscar nominations. It’s a sure contender for visual effects, cinematography and editing. It is also sure to confuse certain people, to which I would recommend stop trying to understand it. Birdman is not meant to be understood. It is meant to be experienced, and if you can help it, interpreted.

Post-script: A thought I had after seeing the movie that I think viewers will also have. Because of how profoundly his role as Birdman affected Riggan, is Inarritu attacking the superhero genre of film? I believe he is, but I choose not to acknowledge that. After all, for every time a superhero film was called too simple, couldn’t you call any art film too complicated? I quote Mark Twain: “Too much of anything is bad.” 

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An Afternoon With Alejandro Inarritu

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

– Raymond Carver

These were the words that director Alejandro Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) chose to quote at the beginning of his meticulous film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It was also the first words that came back into my head minutes before I was to interview him.

This weekend, I had two great experiences happen to me. Firstly, getting to see Birdman, a viciously unique film that tackles it’s characters and themes with pinpoint precision: a masterwork by a master director. The second you already know. If you don’t, you didn’t read my first paragraph.

Alejandro gave myself, along with about ten other college journalists, the privilege to talk to him about his upcoming limited release. After seeing the movie, this surprised me, because there was a moment in the film where a journalist accuses the main character of injecting semen into his pores to maintain his young features. I suspect Mr. Inarritu hosts a very guarded spirit while being interviewed by the press, and I certainly don’t blame him for that if that is the case. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why Inarritu wanted to host the interview over the phone in the first place.

Anyhow, I had 20 minutes to listen to the director’s innermost thoughts, and while I only got to ask him one question, I enjoyed the experience as much as any other college journalist who participated in the call. While all of these aren’t my questions, these are the ones I found the most relevant to the film, and the ones I believed Inarritu would have preferred to be answered in the first place. So without further adieu, here is Alejandro Inarritu on the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Question: Your film is unique, hyperactive and full of energy. How do you communicate to your cast the complex tone you’re wanting to portray?

Answer: I always try to be very specific, help them to clarify and simplify things by having a very clear objective. I think every scene has an objective, and every character has something they want to achieve in each scene. When you have cleared your objective, and to try one or two possible ways to get that done through an action verb, I think that would simplify the work not only for me, but for everybody.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film? 

A: It was a very short shooting — 29 days. We rehearsed a lot before arriving to the set, so basically it was a very intense and meticulous work of precision with actors, camera and crew. Everything was designed and matched the needs of the film that was basically predecided in rehearsal.

Q: You have a big role behind your scenes in producing, writing and directing all of your films. What is it like taking on all of those jobs at once? 

A: I have been lucky to have been the producer and be involved in all of my films in a very personal way. I think there is no other way to make it. I think if you have a film that is personal, if you are doing your own film, there is no other way to not produce it, because I think it’s a part of the film. Producing means a lot of decisions that will impact your film one way or another.

Q: In the movie, Riggan Thompson is overshadowed by a superhero role he played earlier in his career. In real life, Keaton is overshadowed by his role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Is that an intentional casting decision that you made?

A: Keaton adds a lot of mental reality to the film, being an authority and one of the few persons of his work that pioneered the superhero thing. But at the same time, he has the craft and the range to play in drama and comedy, and very few actors can do that. He plays a prick in this film, and I need someone who was adorable, somebody who you can really like. He has that likeness, that likeness that was required. All of these things made him the perfect choice for it. I think he was very bold in trusting me with this role.

Q: One of the things that is particularly interesting with the film is the long take. Can you talk about why you made that visual choice?

A: I wanted the long take to make the people really feel the experience of this guy. I think it’s important for every director in every film to pick the point of view, and in this case I wanted radical point of view, and the people were in the shoes of the character to experience his emotions. I felt that was the most effective way to do that.

Q: Why did you choose to portray mental illness in a film that is at least extensively a comedy?

A: I think ego is a part of our decease as a society. I think the ego is a necessity, but I think when the ego takes over and we attach our personalities to the ego, and he domains a person absolutely without being discovered or controlled. That’s mental deceit, and I see in a way Riggan Thompson suffering from that illusion of ego that’s distorting him. He thinks he does things that he does not do, he’s in like a manic state of mind. He’s an extreme case of ego.

Q: Is that part of the commentary?

A: Everything is part of the tone of the film. That’s why it opens with a guy meditating in tidy whites.

– David Dunn

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” Review (✫1/2)

This movie has the wrong title.

The Bourne Legacy is a misconstrued mess, an absolute miscalculation and train wreck of a film that it has no business being made into a movie in the first place.  I hated this idea months before this was released, and I hate it even more now after having seen it.  Who, in their right minds, thought it was a good idea to make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne???  That was my biggest concern going into the movie.  Believe me though, fellow moviegoers: that is the least of your worries.

Taking place shortly after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy shows the repercussions of Bourne’s actions, how it affects Treadstone, and what marks it leaves on the people involved.  Erik Byer (Edward Norton) is a government official who was directly involved with the affairs of Treadstone during its days of operation.  Shortly after Jason Bourne escapes their custody, however, Byer believes that all of the agents now are a potential threat to the government, and is convinced that he needs to shut the project down in order to protect themselves.  By “shut the project down”, I really mean kill all of the agents in the field.

One of these agents is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an experienced field agent who is carrying out a mission in Alaska for Treadstone when the order was released.  While taking refuge in a wooden cabin with another fellow agent out in Alaska, they are suddenly attacked by robot jets, and Cross barely escapes with his life intact.  Surviving only because of the medication he is on (Treadstone agents are required to take two pills, a blue one for physical boosting, and a green one for mental boosting), Cross looked into his stash to realize that he only has a couple days worth of medication left.  Now low on food, supplies, and ammunition, Cross must now find a way to get back to America and survive against Treadstone long enough to find a way to counterattack their onslaught.

Let me start with the most obvious flaw here: Tony Gilroy.  Looking at his filmography, you would think he would be the best man for the job here.  He was credited as co-writer for the three previous Bourne movies, he wrote and directed the Oscar-winning drama-thriller Michael Clayton as well as the 2008 caper film Duplicity.  I enjoyed all of those movies, and thinking that this one would be the same, made the mistake of thinking that it would be just as good.

Trust me, this couldn’t be any more of a dissapointment.  Everything wrong with this movie has everything to do with Gilroy’s script and direction, which couldn’t be more forced, erratic, confusing, and half-lapsed than this.

The problems start with the premise: a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne is a bad enough idea.  But let’s take a step back here and try to be open with this.  Let’s just say, for facetious effort, that Aaron Cross’ story is just as fascinating and compelling as Bourne’s is.  What are the conflicts?  In his first three movies, Jason Bourne’s struggle was against his morality, identity, and the confronting of his past.  What is Cross’ magnificent, epic struggle?  Survival by trying to find a green pill.  If this movie dwelved any more into the conflict than it did, I would have said Cross was a junkie.

“Funny”, I think.  “I don’t remember these pills being used in the original trilogy”.  Correction: I vaguely remember them.  In a brief flashback sequence in The Bourne Ultimatum, I remember Jason Bourne taking a blue and green pill during his initiation into Treadstone (this memory is hazy though).  Bourne obviously didn’t need to take the pills further because his body adapted to the drugs.  Here, Cross is dependent on the drugs like a junkie is on cocaine, and if he doesn’t get his daily dose of the green pill, he’ll apparently revert to the level of intelligence of Forest Gump, according to him.

Okay, that’s fine.  Jason Bourne isn’t in the movie, check.  Super pills gives Cross super powers, check.  I would be able to buy the premise and its characters if A) it were handled well, or B) it was anywhere near as smart, interesting, or even remotely readable as it was to The Bourne Identity.  Here, instead of intelligence we get confusion, instead of cleverness we get forced easter eggs to earlier movies, and instead of interest we get on-the-nose, ham-fisted writing.  The editing in this film is choppy, leaping all over the place, jumping from one timeline to another, one flashback to the next, and it becomes so repetitive and convoluted throughout the picture that by halfway through I stopped caring about it.

Oh, I don’t deny Jeremy Renner is a knockout in this role.  Neither do I deny the talents of Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, and especially not Joan Allen or Albert Finney.  All of the performances are great, but the story is a complete wreck, and Gilroy clearly has no idea how to handle his premise or the cast he’s been given for this.  What more proof do you need, besides this convoluted script, an uninteresting story, and a tedious chase sequence at the end with a sharply abrupt cliffhanger?

This is exactly the reason why I hate sequels.  When done well, like the original Bourne trilogy, they are compelling, brilliant expansions furthering the story set up by the first one.  When done like this however, they are nothing but forced, awkward, nonsensical garbage.

Again, I ask this: why did this movie have to get made?  The Bourne Legacy is exactly what you expect it to be, a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne, equally without the compelling character drama or real conflict in it. And now they’re talking about a possible sequel to this mess.  Only if Jason comes back and kills Aaron Cross.  That’s the only way they can redeem themselves at this point.

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