“The Bourne Legacy” is the fourth chapter in the “Bourne” saga, the series that to date has featured Matt Damon as the titular Jason Bourne, a trained killing machine with amnesia.
Each of the previous three were simple stories. Bourne attempts to elude pursuit and evade capture while simultaneously unraveling the mystery of his past.
In this installment, the camera pulls further back and shows much more of the program which created Bourne. The lead character, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), is a similar Treadstone subject who manages to survive elimination when the government decides to “Burn” the program in the wake of the Jason Bourne scandal, in order to mitigate the potential damage. But by delving so deeply into the background story, this chapter waters down its focus and becomes much broader. It doesn’t help that the action isn’t as plentiful – or as exciting – as prior installments either.
It’s still enjoyable, and I wouldn’t call it unworthy of inclusion in the series… but it’s undoubtedly the weakest chapter of the quadrilogy.
“The Bourne Legacy” is not a reboot. It’s a straight up sequel, simply told without the benefit of Jason Bourne. Flashbacks take us a few steps back just prior to when Bourne shows up in New York in “Ultimatum”, but then the story picks up from there. At that point, the Treadstone program was a covert intelligence operation genetically modifying agents to become field agents with borderline super-powers. In addition to Bourne, there were a handful of “Outcome agents” being created and trained at the same time. When Bourne exposes the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs at the end of his mission in the original trilogy, the government quickly responds by shutting the programs down and setting a torch to all traces of them that they can. That of course, includes assassinating the existing “Outcome agents” who are in the field or in training.
Aaron Cross manages to survive the attempt to eliminate him, but realizes that he needs the drugs that he’s been being given or he may die. This drives back to the medical research facility that has been conducting the chemical DNA manipulation on him. Of course, this facility has also been a part of the government “torching”. Again, however, there’s a survivor of the incident. This time, it’s Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor who Cross is familiar with from his many checkups. She knows how to stave off his medication withdrawals and make the enhancements that he’s undergone permanent. Of course, they’ll have to survive, first. The government is after them both.
The major difference between this film and its predecessors, obviously, is the lack of Matt Damon. As I recall, Damon was in discussion to be in the film, but was insisting on the return of director Paul Greengrass. Greengrass did not return, however, and neither did Damon. Ironically, I think that the film misses Greengrass more than Damon… even though I felt the absence of both. Though Doug Liman directed the original “Bourne”, Paul Greengrass took over with “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum” and created two phenomenal action films. He’s one of the few directors that I’ve ever actually enjoyed the shaky cam/quick cut style of action sequence with. After Greengrass’ and Damon’s departure, the studio managed to keep some of the series’ continuity by promoting Tony Gilroy to the director’s chair. Gilroy adapted each of the previous film’s screenplays from their respective source novels. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to direct “Duplicity” and “Michael Clayton”, a movie for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Here, though I wouldn’t say that he did a bad job, I would say that the action sequences absolutely suffer. The “style” remains the same, but without Greengrass’ magic touch, it simply falls short. There also doesn’t seem to be as much of it. Perhaps its just my feeling, but it seems to me that the balance of this film is much less on the action than the pervious installments. Not that there aren’t multiple set pieces here, there are. It just seemed that there was much more backstory, much more plot, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing here.
The actors are all fine, and I didn’t mind Renner in the lead, he was definitely acceptable as the protagonist. There were a few moments for me when Weisz fell flat a bit, but she is an Academy Award winner and I am a big fan, so I’m sure it’s more the part than her. Norton is weasley and contemptible as the head of the effort to eradicate the program and thus Renner and Weisz’s characters.
But with more plot come more opportunity for holes, and then at the end there’s a pretty jarring attempt to boil things back down to a mano a mano simplicity that didn’t work very well for me. So, while I enjoyed it, I can’t put it on the level of the first three films, which I think very highly of. It was enjoyable, it has lots of action along the way, and it’s not going to cause you to overlook issues too often. It does occasionally though, and the first films, for me, didn’t. Still, if we get a fifth, especially if it unites Damon and Renner as speculated, this film did a lot of the dirty work in laying out a fully fleshed out backstory, and now going forward the world that these guys rampage through will seem much fuller.