Guest Review: The Great Wall (2017)

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Directed By: Yimou Zhang
Written By: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I’m so happy they cast Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. Middle-aged white men are dangerously underrepresented in Hollywood nowadays, and giving recognition to a criminally underused actor was such a brave, progressive decision by the filmmakers.

Am I being too subtle in my sarcasm? I might be laying it on a little too thin. In all seriousness, I won’t make this entire review about whitewashing in Hollywood (although, obviously, it will be addressed), since A) there would be too much to talk about for one post and B) this movie had other problems in addition to casting a white actor as the main character in a movie set around a Chinese landmark…like the fact that it’s in 3D. Oh, boy.

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In The Great Wall, two European soldiers named William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are searching China for gunpowder and stumble upon the eponymous structure in the midst of an attack by a horde of massive reptilian beasts that have been plaguing the country every sixty years. The men assist the soldiers, led by Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), in attempting to defeat the monsters once and for all.

One of my biggest questions during this movie was “What nationality is Matt Damon supposed to be?” Saying he half-asses whatever accent he’s attempting is generous; he quarter-asses it. It sounds like a lazy blend of Irish and Scottish, although at one point when he responded to a question Tovar asked him in Spanish, I thought for one glorious moment he was supposed to be from Spain and was going for an imitation of Sean Connery in Highlander before we eventually find out the character’s name is William.

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Seriously, there is no good reason to have a European character as the lead in this movie. William and Tovar could easily be completely removed from the film without affecting the plot. They try to make it out like William is this big hero, a huge asset to the Chinese army’s cause (because obviously what this massive, finely-tuned army really needs is one white dude with a bow and arrow to save the day), but the only role William and Tovar serve is exposition, clueless foreigners for the Chinese army to explain why there are lizard-dog monsters attacking the Great Wall. At best, they provide some comedic relief, but it ranges from cliché to cringe-worthy, including an especially stupid moment where Tovar grabs a bright red cape from a fallen soldier and waves it, toreador-like, at one of the creatures; apparently the writers took some of their comedy cues from old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

On the subject of Tovar, I do love Pedro Pascal, especially after seeing him in Game of Thrones a couple seasons ago (R.I.P., Oberyn), and he does a good job with what little he’s given, managing a balance of being humorous and a little menacing. I really hope to see him in more major films, just not any that are…like this.

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While the writing and casting of this movie are problematic, it still is visually stunning. The costumes are especially beautiful, with the brightly-colored armor vibrant against the gritty background. The soundtrack is lovely. A lot of the battle action is really cool to watch, with some incredibly well choreographed moments. There are some breathtaking wide shots of the scenery, marred only when they do running close-ups of the wall and cheesy CGI arrows as an excuse for 3D. While there is a lot that is fun to look at, there is no reason for it to be in 3D, and the shots that are clearly in the movie for the 3D are so forced.

If you just want to see some pretty scenes and creative monsters, check this out. Otherwise, I’d recommend avoiding this hour and a half of stupidity.

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Have you seen ‘The Great Wall’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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I don’t call myself a Star Wars groupie and honestly I was rather lukewarm about The Force Awakens. At the same time I didn’t hate the prequels trilogy (episode 1-3) though I have to admit there were tons of problems. But the more I hear about Rogue One and that amazing international cast, the more I look forward to it. Well, if only all prequels were as good as this one.

The story is set before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) which as you might recall opens with Princess Leia aboard her starship with the stolen plans to restore freedom to the galaxy, as she’s being pursued by the evil Empire. The fact that George Lucas never explained just how Leia got those stolen plans lends itself to a great spinoff/prequel and in many ways it’s as intriguing a story as the origin of Darth Vader. At the center of the Rebel Alliance is a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), shown as a little girl sent to flee by her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) as he’s about to be captured by the Empire and finish the work he’s started, that is creating the Death Star.

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The rest of the film is quite action-packed, as Jyn tries to break free from the rebels in a rescue mission. I love the first introduction of her with K-2SO (voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk), the droid is definitely a lively character and he’s even more memorable than BB8 with his dry wit. The rest of the rebel group is made up of an awesomely-diverse international cast: Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe and Wen Jiang as Imwe’s loyal friend Baze Malbus. I don’t even mind there’s no Jedi in this movie. I gotta say Donnie Yen is my fave of the bunch, he’s got the most memorable intro with his martial arts skills, but he’s also got some funny one liners! Who knew he’d be the comic relief of the movie along with Tudyk’s K-2SO.

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Because the plot revolves around a single crucial mission to retrieve the Death Star plans, the story is pretty easy to follow. All the action punctuates the story but never overwhelms it. It’s definitely more of a gritty war action film that offers plenty of dynamic battle sequences, both on air and on the ground. There’s less philosophical dialog nor extensive dramatic scenes, but that doesn’t mean the film lacks substance. At the core of the struggle is always Jyn trying to fulfills her father’s mission… “Save the Rebellion and Save the Dream.” And what a struggle it was. The third act centers on the Rogue One team infiltrating Empires headquarters in Scarif, and it’s a real team effort in order to get Jyn to steal the plans. As if that wasn’t tough enough, retrieving the plans is half the battle, there’s the virtually impossible task of actually transporting the data to the Rebel Alliance!


Director Gareth Edwards did a pretty good job directing this (much better than his last blockbuster effort Godzilla in 2014) and he stages the action pieces nicely. The scene inside the control room where the plans are kept are stunningly-shot. It was certainly a well-staged scene that gives me quite an adrenaline rush, whilst K2SO provides the hilarious bits whilst fighting off the stormtroopers. I never felt dizzy or bored watching the battle sequences and there are plenty of suspense throughout. The script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy has a good mix of action, drama and humor, with some emotional moments that never resort to melodrama. I really think the movie benefits from a strong ensemble cast with a capable female lead at the center. I’ve been a fan of Felicity Jones in her dramatic performances (Like Crazy, Breathe In, The Theory of Everything), but it’s nice to see her kick some butt here whilst always keeping her character grounded. She never became some action heroine or anything, which would’ve been silly.

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As for the supporting cast, every member of the Rogue One team is solid. They fight valiantly and the theme of sacrifice and hope give the story emotional gravitas. I feel a bit underwhelmed by Ben Mendelsohn as a high ranking Imperial senator though he looks sinister enough in his caped uniform. But his meeting with the big boss is definitely a memorable scene. Star Wars fans might’ve exploded in geekgasm the moment Vader showed up… then THAT voice came out of him, whoa! Who could top James Earl Jones‘ voice… it was glorious! There’s also memorable Vader scene wielding his lightsaber that made even me want to get up and cheer. Yes we’re not supposed to root for the bad guy, but man!!!

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[Spoiler alert – highlight to read] My biggest beef is the final scene with horrible CGI-ed face of Princess Leia! It’s so distracting and kind of lessens the impact of that powerful scene. Heh, the X-Men films have done a good job making Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen look half their age, so you’d think with a $200mil budget they could afford to do a better job. They could even opt for doing just a silhouette of her whilst she said the line, that’d surely make it more memorable than showing a bad CGI. Peter Cushing is also back as a CGI character as Grand Moff Tarkin, 

Despite my quibbles, it’s still a pretty darn good movie. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is quite beautiful (he’s also the DP for the gorgeous film LION), complemented by the rousing score by Michael Giacchino. I love that every time Vader showed up the iconic John Williams’ theme song came on! I really enjoyed this one and would definitely watch this again on IMAX. I might even follow up with episode 4, 5 and 6 now that the story suddenly feels fresh again.

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So, what do you think of ROGUE ONE? Let’s hear it!

Ted’s Picks of Worst Films of the Year so far

Just yesterday I saw this info-graphic that Hollywood’s creativity is waning. I mean, zero original movie in 2011?? WOW! I wonder how 2012 fares, but there sure are a bazillion remakes, sequels, prequels, what have you, and that trend isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Well, Rodney at Fernby Films are currently doing Worst Film Week series, so it seems fitting that Ted takes the time to share the worst of what he’s seen this year.

I just realized that I’ve seen more films this year than I did at the same time a year ago and even though none of them I would consider great, some are quite entertaining. Of course I also saw some really bad ones along the way. I read that many film bloggers and critics dubbed this year as the year of disappointments and I think I have agree with that statement.

Below are my top 4.5 worst films I’ve seen so far this year.

4.5. John Carter 

I don’t know if I should even put 4.5 for this movie since I only watched about 45 minutes of it. I had to turn it off because there’s nothing in the film that interests me, Taylor Kitsch has zero screen charisma and I have no desire to see him in any other films from now on. The film was such a box office failure that Disney actually had to tell their share holders that they lost money on it, ouch!
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4. The Bourne Legacy

I was really looking forward to seeing this film, a new leading man and director behind the cameras so I was hoping to see a new take on the franchise, sadly that was not the case. I like Jeremy Renner as an actor but I don’t think he’s the leading man quality that Hollywood is pushing him hard to be. I thought he did a descent job as the new “Jason Bourne” in this film so he’s not the reason why this film failed. I blame all of the mishaps on the film’s writer and director, Tony Gilroy. True that Gilroy also wrote the first three Bourne films but the directors of those films brought in a few writers to tweak his script. But now he’s totally in charge of the fourth film, he only brought in his brother to help him write the it. I understood what the Gilroys were trying to do with this new chapter of the Bourne franchise but I think had they brought in another writer or two to tighten up the script, it could’ve been a good movie.

Directing wise, Gilroy loves to have scenes with long dialogue (for example Michael Clayton), that’s fine as long as what the characters were saying are interesting but unfortunately in this film, none of the dialogues were interesting nor do we care what they were talking about. Since this is an action film, we the audience expects to see action, well Gilroy failed on delivering that part too. Although I did enjoy the shootout scene at the big house but the big motorcycle chase near the end of the film just went on too long and most of time we couldn’t see what the hell was going on the screen. Also, where was the big hand-to-hand combat? The first three films had a huge fight scene and I expected to see the same in this one.

Apparently Universal will continue to make another Bourne film even though this one will be the least successful at the box office. I just hope they hire a new director and have a better script, I think Tony Gilroy might be a one hit wonder when it comes to directing. I love Michael Clayton and I thought for sure Gilroy will make more great films; sadly Duplicity and this film were dreadful. Check out my full review of this movie here.
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3. Red Tails

A friend of mine got some free passes to an early screening of this film and invited me to see it with him, I decided to check out back in January. Well I wish I hadn’t, if not for the many war veterans who were at the attendance and a free pass from my friend, I would’ve walked out half hour into the film. This was such a shame because The Tuskegee Airmen deserves a better film to tell their story. This film was filled with so many bad clichés that my eyes hurt from rolling them throughout the film. Shame on George Lucas for making this Star Wars mixed in with Top Gun turkey, instead of giving us a great story of one of the finest US fighter groups in WW2. If you really want to see a better film about this group of men, I urge you to see the 1995 movie The Tuskegee Airmen. It’s 10 times better than this awful film.
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2. Total Recall (2012)

This film may have been the most unoriginal remake since the remake of The Getaway back in 1994; I know it’s sounds weird since it’s a remake but at least most remakes tried to bring something new to table. Not this film, it’s a great example of lazy writing and lack of creativity by the filmmakers. Yes, the film looks great but if we don’t care about the story or any of the characters, then what’s the point? If you’ve never seen the original, please see that version and skip this one. If you like, you can read my full review here.

1. Safe House

Speaking of lazy and unoriginal filmmaking, this film is a great example of that. Not only did director Daniel Espinosa copied the look and feel of Greengrass’s two Bourne films, he even hired cinematographer Oliver Wood to shoot the film for him as Wood shot the first three Bourne films. Seriously, watch Greengrass’s Bourne films, particularly The Bourne Supremacy and then watch this film and you’ll see how similar they are to one another (except The Bourne Supremacy was great and this one’s awful).

I read an interview with screenwriter David Guggenheim who said he wrote an original script and wanted to tell a great espionage story just like films of the 70s. I had to laugh at that because there’s nothing original about his script. Now he may have written an “original” story and the producers may have hired more writers to tweak his original script but still, to come out and say that his script was so original after the film came out with a straight face was comical to me.

The unoriginal script was bad enough but the direction by Espinosa was even worst. Seriously, does this man even know how to shoot a film? Now I’ve never seen his other films so I don’t know much about his work but after seeing this movie, I have no interest in seeing his upcoming films or his earlier ones. I wrote a piece about how I wish action directors would stop shooting action scenes with that hand held/fast editing style and this film is a great example of how bad action scenes look when not staging them well and just shake the cameras. I can forgive directors for shooting bad action scenes if I was involved in the story (Batman Begins for example, bad action scenes but I love the story). Well unfortunately, I didn’t care about the plot here, in fact I figured out who the real bad guy was in just a half an hour into it. Espinosa also doesn’t seem to know how to create or build up tension leading up to action scenes.

I haven’t even talked about the two leading men yet and you know what, there’s not much to talk about. Washington looked bored, he’s basically playing another version of Alonso from Training Day, except here he’s the “good” guy. Ryan Reynolds, well he’s playing Ryan Reynolds. I don’t buy him as an action hero and he didn’t do much to convince me in this one. Don’t waste your time and money on this film.

– post by Ted S.


Well those are some bad films I saw so far this year, I’m pretty sure I’ll see more bad ones in the next three months so I may have to tweak the list comes January. Feel free to list your worst films so far this year in the comments section.

Mini Weekend Roundup Reviews: Rob Roy & Bourne Legacy

It’s a bit later than usual but I still want to let you know about my weekend movie-watching roundup. Usually I worked on the post on Monday night, but last Monday night I was invited to dinner with friends my hubby and I haven’t seen in over five years. It was wonderful and we had such a great time chatting over delicious Indonesian food (my friend owns a catering business), plus I went home with three DVDs on loan: Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King & Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

Can’t wait to see all of ’em, especially the first one!

Now, we managed to only see two movies this past weekend. We had set out to see Bourne Ultimatum (we have the Blu-ray set) on Sunday night as my hubby and I were quite disappointed with Bourne Legacy, but we couldn’t help watching the closing ceremony. I think the highlights for me were the We Will Rock You segment, Spice Girls [yeah, they’re back and they owned it!!] … AND David Gandy!!! I don’t usually go for models, but that man is BEAUTIFUL ♥ ♥ ♥

All right, now on to the reviews:

ROB ROY

Thanks to my generous friend Michael of It Rains… You Get Wet who kindly lent me the Blu-ray of this film. I had been interested in seeing this movie because of his excellent two-part analysis of this epic swashbuckling drama.

My love for all things Scottish is quite well-known around this blog, but that’s not the only reason I love this film. For one thing, it was beautifully-filmed. The Highlands looks majestic and as soon as the characters appear, the story just pulls me right in.

Liam Neeson is a charismatic lead, who despite being Irish is perfectly cast as one of those valiant men who’s loved and revered by the towns people and his family. I wish he’d still be doing dramatic roles like this one to balance all the bad ass action hero stuff he’s doing these days. In a way though, Rob Roy MacGregor IS an action hero of sort, he was regarded as the Scottish Robin Hood. In this film, Rob Roy was framed for stealing £1,000 from an English Duke, the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt), and forced to become an outlaw when he refuse to slander the Duke’s Scottish rival.

I was quite engrossed with the story and MacGregor’s journey. Despite the 139 min running time, I wasn’t bored watching it. Neeson effortlessly carried the film but Tim Roth perfectly captured the vile nature of the Duke’s henchman Archibald Cunningham in this Oscar-nominated performance. He’s just so evil through and through, every little thing he did just makes your skin crawl. Their battle becomes personal for MacGregor when Cunningham sexually assaulted his beloved wife Mary [I suggest you read Michael’s fascinating analysis on on this topic], which led to the climactic sword-fight that makes you get up and cheer!

The rest of the performances are excellent as well, Brian Cox rarely disappoints and he was memorable here too, as was Jessica Lange as the devoted wife. I like the depiction of a healthy marriage here, and I also love that Mary is no damsel in distress even despite the harsh circumstances.

I highly recommend this if you’re into historical dramas or an inspiring, heroic story that doesn’t involve a cape or spandex 🙂

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Bourne Legacy

My friend Ted already posted his excellent review on this, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but I still want to add my two cents on this. Well, some of you perhaps already know that I’m just not a big fan of Jeremy Renner. I didn’t even think he’s that great in The Hurt Locker [yeah, so sue me!] But that aside, I LOVE the Bourne universe, so despite my initial gripe about him replacing Matt Damon, I’m naturally curious about this movie. Plus spy action thriller is right up my alley.

I went in with an open mind that perhaps this film might change my mind about Renner, after all I wasn’t a big fan of Damon before Bourne Identity. Alas, it did not happen, in fact, even in the whole opening sequence in the Alaska wilderness, I was more taken by Oscar Isaac [now I’d like to see more of him in Hollywood!]. Bourne Legacy does not change my mind about Renner, but the problem lies more in the writing. I mean, Aaron Cross is just not as compelling a character as Bourne, simply because of his motivation that Ted has pointed out in his review. Bourne’s memory loss drives him to find out just why he is the way he is and does what he does, that alone is a compelling journey for us to stick around for. Cross on the other hand, knows full well who he is, a ‘chems’ addict super soldier who wants to stay that way. So basically he is terrified to go back to be a ‘regular joe’ once he knows the power of those pills, and truth be told, he probably can’t survive independently in society either.

In his journey, Cross is assisted by the beautiful chemist, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who survives a murder-suicide by his colleague. Cross is doubtful about her naiveté in that she has no clue what the pills are used for, and so did I. Despite the long talks between the two of them that seem to go on forever, her character still isn’t explored really well. There’s also the issue of figuring out just who the enemy is. Technically, it’s Ed Norton’s Eric Byer, who’s hired by the top officials of Operation Blackbriar or the Treadstone Project to get rid of all trace of their Black Ops operation that Bourne has systematically exposed in the previous film, hence the ‘legacy’ in the title.

To say that Cross sort of operates under the ‘shadow’ of Bourne is an understatement. Seems like even the filmmakers don’t want us to forget about the original hero because every few minutes, Damon’s photo ID is flashed on screen and you know what, it actually makes me miss him even more!! Like in Total Recall, there’s all this déjà vu-ish feeling that I have seen this all before but done much, much better. Even the action was just so-so, the shootout at Martha’s house is perhaps the only highlight. The motorcycle chase in Manila is exhilarating, thought that whole bit about Larx-03, the ultimate super soldier that even Byer boss thought was only a prototype makes me laugh. It reminds me of T-1000 in Terminator 2 how he just got up after being shot multiple times and crashes his motorcycle!! It was a fun sequence but that point I didn’t really care much about Cross anymore so it didn’t have that much of an impact.

My biggest beef with this whole movie though, is how extremely misleading the marketing is. In the trailer and even the posters list Joan Allen and David Strathairn’s names but both only appeared for less than 2 minutes!! I mean, that’s barely a cameo!! The supporting cast was one of the main draw for me to see this, so that was VERY disappointing!

All in all, Tony Gilroy’s direction confirms my dread that the film is a downgrade from the stellar Bourne trilogy. A lot can be said about that anti-climactic ending, but ‘gripping’ isn’t one of them. In fact, the only best thing about it is the awesome Extreme Ways soundtrack by Moby, but it also makes you long for the predecessor.

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Thoughts on either one of these? Let it be known in the comments.

The Bourne Legacy – Ted’s Review

After they couldn’t convince both Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon to come back and do another Bourne film, Universal Pictures decided to go ahead and make another one without them. Was this a good move or an ill-advised one? Read on.

The film opens with a similar scene to the beginning of the first film and the end of the last film, if you remember Bourne was floating in water in the beginning of the first one and then he was swimming away in the last one. Were the filmmakers thought the audience wouldn’t know they’re watching a Bourne film had they opened this new film with a different scene? Well it turns out the person in the water wasn’t Bourne but a new hero, Aaron Cross played by Jeremy Renner. We learned that he’s somewhere in the Alaska wilderness and in training. I have to commend Renner for his performance during these opening scenes, he didn’t have any dialogue and only he let his body do the talking.

We also found out that Bourne’s public exposure of CIA black ops “Treadstone” and “Blackbriar” causes the powers that be to take desperate measures to save additional programs and their own behinds. In came Edward Norton who plays some sort of an advisor to the higher ups at the CIA, his advice was to wipe out all traces of the company’s latest secret agent program, “Outcome”.  So all of the undercover agents were terminate except our hero, Aaron Cross. Along with the getting rid of all the agents, anyone who’s involved with the “Outcome” project also gets their life terminated. Fortunately one of the doctors played by Rachel Weisz was able to escaped and later Cross came to her aid and for the rest of the film, both of them are trying to stay alive by evading the assassins sent  by the agency to kill them.

Unlike the previous films where our hero Bourne was trying to recover his memory of he was and why he’s an assassin, Cross knows who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. Because he’s some sort of a super agent, he needs pills to keep going. And this is one the reasons why I think this film didn’t work, it reminds me way too much of Van Damme’s Universal Soldier. Cross is just not an interesting character, we already know why he’s an assassin so it’s kind of pointless to care about him. Bourne on the other hand, because of his memory loss, he’s trying to figure out why his employer wants to kill him and most importantly, why he’s so good at killing people. We the audience also want to know that too, and so we went along and follow his journey.

Another reason why I thought the film didn’t work was the lack of a true villain. Edward Norton is wasted here. Even though he ordered the hit on all the agents, he’s somehow have some kind of connections with Cross, they showed a few flashback scenes with two of them talking; I’m not quite sure why those scenes were included, someone have to explain that to me.

The film was directed by Tony Gilroy, he wrote the first three films and now he’s decided to shoot the film himself. Gilroy blew me away with his first film, Michael Clayton, but his next one Duplicity was a self-indulgent mess. I feel that’s what he’s done with this film, it seems Gilroy and his brother came up with all these great ideas to kick start this franchise with a new character. But somehow they couldn’t execute their ideas, I think this is where the studio should’ve hired a director who can actually expand or tighten the script a bit. I remember Greengrass actually hired a couple of writers to clean up Gilroy’s scripts of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum.

Since Gilroy gets to direct this time, he’s probably thought his script was perfect and didn’t need a clean-up. I get the feeling that he’s trying to make the film similar to that of the 1970s espionage thrillers but totally failed. The film also didn’t deliver on the action front, in fact there weren’t many action in it compare to the previous three films. The mistake Gilroy make was to try and imitate Greengrass’ frantic style of action scenes. Now the action scenes weren’t as bad as say, Safe House, but the big chase near the end of the film went a bit too long and sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on. I think the only good thing I can say about this film was Rachel Weisz, she looked beautiful and really played her role quite well. It’s unfortunate that her character was nothing more than another damsel in distress.

Was The Bourne Legacy a bad film? I don’t think so, it’s just wasn’t that interesting and the lack of action didn’t help considering fans of the franchise expect to see hand to hand combats and crazy car chases. Legacy only delivered half of that.

– post by Ted S.

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Well folks, what did you think of this film?