The Reel Breakdown

Adams on Reel Women – Rachel Weisz keeps the damsel in distress alive in ‘The Bourne Legacy’

Photo: Universal PhotosIs the damsel in distress toast — tied to too many train tracks, rescued from too many burning buildings and abusive husbands with hairy backs? Despite this being the summer of kick-ass women — Kate Beckinsale in "Total Recall," Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman," Scarlett Johansson in "The Avengers" — the beauty that must be saved endures. Rachel Weisz plays the archetype opposite action genie Jeremy Renner in "The Bourne Legacy."

Let's make her a geneticist!

In "The Bourne Legacy," the strikingly beautiful Weisz plays your average ordinary overeducated geneticist. Dr. Marta Shearing works in a secret government lab monitoring the health of genetically altered assassins. She's initially defined by her work ethic and obliviousness: To her, Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross is little more than a lab rat, Subject Number Five. She doesn't even pause to admire his pecs or look into his eyes. Her super-smart scientist recalls the thinly drawn doctor played by Freida Pinto in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." In that movie, Pinto was a breath of sweet estrogen in a testosterone-heavy film, the anchor of the secondary romantic plot. But she was as believable as a soap-opera doctor: 'Get me the heart-listening thingy stat!'

[Related: Adams on Reel Women — Distressing Damsels: The Summer of Women Kicking Ass]

The female scientist has long been a staple of sci-fi. Think Susan Storm in "Fantastic Four" or Dana Scully in "X-Files." Some carry the plot, inserting the crucial clue, and others are carried along by it. In the case of the sexily disheveled Dr. Shearing, she just needs one good man to slap her into becoming fully conscious of her part in a dangerous and deadly scientific experiment.

She has a gun. She just doesn't know how to shoot straight

Dr. Marta Shearing's first wake-up call that all is not well with her genetic experiment at the pristine lab she calls work occurs when a co-worker goes postal. Even then, the myopic Dr. Shearing doesn't sense the conspiracy closing around her. Her immediate response — unlike, say, Noomi Rapace's Dr. Shaw in "Prometheus" — is to duck and cover. Shearing has a strong will to survive, but she lacks the skills when the game turns deadly. She's that very dangerous quantity: A civilian who owns a handgun, but doesn't have a clue how to use it. But, we have to admit, she's beautiful when she's cowering in a sexy librarian way, something that's not lost on Renner's Cross. He may be genetically altered, but he's not immune to love.

Stockholm Syndrome?

The slow romantic simmer between Dr. Shearing and Cross carries a potent strain of Stockholm Syndrome. Removed from everything she knows — a sister in Montreal, her DIY disaster home, her co-workers — Dr. Shearing comes to value Cross's genetically enhanced animal-survival skills. He runs superfast. He shoots super-accurately. He leaps moderate-sized buildings. But, despite all the machismo, Cross is the victim. He is the last living specimen caught in a web of government-sanctioned genocide. And, so, Dr. Shearing empathizes with rather than fears Cross, in the same way that Fay Wray comes to appreciate King Kong even as he grips her in his giant paw like a favorite Barbie.

[Related: Adams on Reel Women: Sight & Sound proves blind and deaf to women directors]

In Dr. Shearing's final smile at the movie's end (OK, if this ending isn't a trailer for the sequel — what is?) she's more relaxed than we've ever seen her, kittenish even. Cross has freed her from the lab. It turns out, she was unwittingly captive when he met her, and their race to freedom pursued by feds is actually an act of liberation.

Rescue me

Who, watching "The Bourne Legacy," doesn't want Cross and Shearing to sail safely off into the sunset together? While I wouldn't want the damsel in distress to dominate screen heroines, I won't deny that the Rapunzel fantasy of being rescued from an isolated tower by a handsome prince endures. Oh swoon! Readers of the runaway bestseller "Fifty Shades of Grey" get that the female desire to submit to a dominant male force persists even (and perhaps especially) in this era when women give birth and climb the professional ladder simultaneously. Who needs to hear every woman character roar? Cue up Dr. Marta Shearing who, for all her additional degrees and lab coat, walks more like a damsel than a dame.

See this 'Bourne Legacy' featurette with Rachel Weisz:

'The Bourne Legacy' Featurette: Rachel Weisz