The Bourne Legacy is the latest installment in the Bourne franchise, though this episode is something of a reboot, returning to the timeline of the third film but shunning Matt Damon in favor of new lead Jeremy Renner. Renner doesn't have the immediate charisma of Damon, but his character Aaron Cross isn't saddled with an amnesia subplot, allowing for a more intimate examination of his history and personality.Like the previous films, The Bourne Legacy rating is PG-13 for violence and language. Some parents' groups have protested, saying the Bourne films deserve an R. Debating film ratings is always problematic because the MPAA, the organization responsible for assigning the grades, is deliberately obscure in their criteria and notoriously inconsistent in their application.
For example, it is generally assumed that any instance of nudity will land a film an R rating, but Titanic famously exposed Kate Winslet's breasts and still received a PG-13 rating thanks to pressure from Paramount and the clout of director James Cameron. Other parameters like profanity and violence leave a lot of room for interpretation - while the "f-word" is obviously the most egregious cuss, where do lesser swears fall on the scale, and how many minor curses equal an f-bomb? Regarding violence, does it matter if the character killed is a good guy or a bad guy, if blood is visible, or if the murder is "justified"?The Bourne Legacy rating of PG-13 permits plenty of violence, including hand-to-hand combat, snapped necks, disastrous car chases, collateral deaths, and most disturbing, a scene where a scientist guns down his co-workers in a lab. This is the content that really has parents' groups up in arms. The shootings of a half-dozen innocent scientists are graphic, bloody, and extremely upsetting to anyone who has seen similar workplace shootings on the news, or worse, experienced an incident closer to home. The recent violence in Denver is reason enough for moviegoers to feel uncomfortable about a graphic portrayal of senseless gun violence in a public space.
One could also question whether violence is negated if the film promotes positive messages and values alongside the gore. Alex Cross is brave, compassionate, and fighting a corrupt government agency, so do his heroic deeds atone for the negative content of the film?
In my opinion, The Bourne Legacy is on par with most PG-13 action films. For better or worse, the MPAA has always allowed a high level of violence in PG-13 movies, while penalizing sexual content more severely, particularly when that content is perceived as "devient" (i.e. rape or homosexuality).
Rather than arguing over a PG-13 or R rating, I think films would benefit from a more detailed and transparent rating system. Additional levels would provide for movies that fall between child and adult levels - for example, in Canada R rated movies are divided into two categories: 14A and 18A, clarifying which "R-rated" movies are appropriate for older teenagers, and which should only be seen by grown adults. Even more importantly, the MPAA should disclose exact parameters for ratings so we know precisely what we'll get when we go see a movie that's rated PG-13.