Bourne . . . without Bourne.
The H-Bomb: Due to the disastrous media fallout of Operation Treadstone, caused by the amnesia-stricken rogue agent Jason Bourne, the back room Government power players, led by the shady Eric Byer (Edward Norton), are trying, in a panic, to pull the plug on another “Black Op” program, Operation Outcome . . . a program so Top Secret even the head of the CIA (Scott Glenn) knows nothing about it. This is a program that gives drugs to its select agents that change and enhance them genetically, and closing it down requires, of course, eliminating all the agents and scientists (who design the drugs) involved. Their closedown procedure almost works, except . . . they missed one.
Actually, they missed two. The one they’re aware of is scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who is the sole survivor of a shooting rampage at the lab where the drugs were designed and administered. The other is asset Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). He was in the Alaskan wilderness on a training exercise where they believed a drone took him out, but, much like Bourne, they taught their man how to survive and be resourceful just a little too well, as he is the one they should really be worried about.
Cross eventually meets up with Shearing, believing that she can provide him with the drugs that he needs. Together they go off on a quest to try and find out who wants them dead and why, as well as staying ahead of the many trained killers that Byer will no doubt send their way. Let the chase begin . . . again!
I have mixed feelings when it comes to the Bourne trilogy. The first one, Identity, I liked quite a bit. The two sequels, Supremacy and Ultimatum, not so much, as to me, they simply played like a couple of two hour long chase scenes, with Bourne turning into an aloof, one-note cyborg of a character who became less sympathetic, and less interesting, as the series wore on. I know I may catch holy hell for stating this, as I’m perfectly aware I’m in the minority, but I found Ultimatum, in particular, to be spectacularly DULL from beginning to end.
Maybe it’s the fact that the series set Bourne aside for the moment in order to focus on a new potential hero, that I found myself enjoying The Bourne Legacy as much as I did. It’s true that Bourne himself does not appear in this one, unless you count that laughably outdated photograph of Matt Damon they show throughout the film (what is that, Matt, your actor’s headshot from 1996?), but the title is true to the movie, as it is very much about Jason Bourne’s “legacy.”
This slight change-up really breathed new life into a series that I felt had completely run its course. Under the direction of Tony Gilroy (who had a hand in writing all the Bourne films, and directed the terrific Michael Clayton), the action has been scaled back a bit, as he takes time to expand this universe in a way that feels authentic and non-contrived. Bourne may not be shown in this one, but its his actions in the past films that set in motion the events of this story, and it is imperative that people see the previous three movies in order to fully follow this film. Gilroy also cleverly has the timeline of Legacy overlap with the timeline of Ultimatum, which is a trick the franchise used before.
Now, as stated, it’s less action heavy than Supremacy and Ultimatum, as there is a new plot as well as new characters to establish, but aside from a somewhat sluggish first act (they should’ve gotten Cross out of Alaska faster than they did), I feel that this was a good thing. The action in the Paul Greengrass helmed sequels was so non-stop it became numbing. Here, however, when a gunfight, or a fist fight, or a chase does occur, they are all the more potent and pack a real wallop. I could almost literally feel the punches and the kicks and the bones snapping.
With his work in films like The Hurt Locker and Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol, leading man Renner has shown he can handle both the dramatic and physical aspects of a character with an adeptness that looks effortless, and he pulls that off again. What impressed me is that his Aaron Cross is not just a Jason Bourne clone, but very much his own character. Cross is a man who is all too aware of his past, who overall believed in what he was doing, but who started to have qualms about it. When he expressed doubt over a mission, Byer assured him that they’re there to do the things that others would consider morally reprehensible, but deep down knew needed to be done.
It’s left to our imaginations as to what these morally reprehensible things were, but given Cross’s abilities in a deadly situation, and the unmistakable look of a guilty conscious that Renner gives him, it’s not too difficult to surmise what those things may have been. Renner brings a real humanity to this living weapon that is Aaron Cross, making him an utterly fascinating and empathetic “action hero.”
I wish I could say the same for Weisz’s character. While Weisz is fine in the role, and she does have chemistry with Renner, her character is basically “The Girl,” as in a sniveling, weak little damsel-in-distress who shivers and cries whenever trouble arises . . . … but she is an improvement over the blank-faced Julia Stiles, I’ll give her that much.
Norton, as the bureaucratic bad guy, is his usual solid self, though I didn’t find him entirely believable as the “control room” villain, especially following in the slimy footsteps of Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and David Strathairn (who pops up a few times in this film). Albert Finney and Joan Allen, also veterans of the franchise, are both actually billed on the poster for The Bourne Legacy, but both only appear fleetingly.
As for other negatives I could whine about, there is this one character, another “genetically engineered” character, who is introduced very late in the story, and seemed like a kind of T-1000 super-villain who would’ve fit in better in one of the more fantastical 007 adventures than in a Bourne film. Also, at two hours and ten minutes, the movie most certainly could’ve been tightened. Perhaps what I disliked most, or what I just found odd, was the rather abruptness of the ending. It doesn’t end so much as it just kind of stops.
But, I can forgive it that, as up until that point, The Bourne Legacy is a highly energized adrenaline shot of an action movie that’s way smarter than the average popcorn flick. The ending may be abrupt, but it is obviously leading into the next film, which I must confess I am quite interested in seeing. The Bourne franchise has won me back over with this one, and I am definitely curious to see, and I know for certain this will occur sooner or later, what happens when Cross and Bourne finally come face to face.