About a month ago, I wrote a short piece on endings. In it, I argued that ”[The story ends] when the protagonist accomplishes his/her primary narrative goal.” Mission Impossible IV, for example, “ends” when Tom Cruise successfully aborts the nuclear missile launch.
Of course, as I later mentioned, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes, complications arise as the characters struggle to solve the “primary narrative problem”—complications that promise deeper, more interesting conflicts. In The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (to use a more recent example than my original Shaw Bros. illustration), Geralt’s goal is to apprehend the titular king slayer; once that’s resolved, the story comes to an abrupt halt—shoving aside the various conspiracies our silver-haired hero has uncovered until the inevitable sequel.
Likewise, in The Bourne Legacy, Aaron Cross’ main objective is to obtain his performance enhancing drugs. Sure enough, the movie stops shortly after he gets his hands on them, and the rest of the plot—Edward Norton’s shady business, the Bourne hearings, all of it—is swept into a big box for the next adventure.
Sequel hooks can be an effective dramatic device, but not when they’re used at the expense of good storytelling. The conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back, for instance, feels like a natural cutoff point—a crushing defeat to build up to the Rebellion’s eventual triumph in Act III (or, in this case, “Episode VI”).
In Legacy, on the other hand, the hook plays as a cruel tease, tacked onto a cinematic joyride that already feels only half-complete (the filmmakers rush through the early expository scenes, a blemish I also noticed in Jason Statham-vehicle Safe). That’s a shame, too—the flick sports a strong middle, packed full of pulse-pounding action scenes that gradually make you care about the characters (a strong performance by Jeremy Renner certainly helps). Ultimately, though, The Bourne Legacy leaves viewers with a less-than-satisfying cinematic meal—some tasty oven-roasted turkey between two slices of moldy bread.