Film Review: The Bourne Legacy
Director: Tony Gilroy
Studio: Relativity Media
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Wiesz, Edward Norton, Matt Damon (Cameo)
It all started in 2002 with The Bourne Identity: a movie that provided thrills, action, and mystery with a healthy helping of conspiracy on the side. The Bourne Supremacy followed in 2004 and expanded the story of it’s title hero. All loose ends were tied in 2007 when the trilogy was successfully wrapped up with The Bourne Ultimatum. Suddenly we get The Bourne Legacy coming out of nowhere with Jeremy Renner’s new character “Aaron Cross” taking over center stage from Matt Damon’s “Jason Bourne”. The Bourne Legacy continues the story of Treadstone and it’s various international endeavors. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is an agent of “Operation Outcome”, a Department of Defense black-ops program that augments it’s subject’s strength and intelligence using cutting edge medicine (pills) and sends them out on top secret missions in the interest of the USA. The early acts of the plot run alongside events in The Bourne Ultimatum, they are clearly alluded to certainly, and as the Department of Defense’s top brass realize that Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is on the verge of exposing their activities they order the assassination of their own “Outcome” agents to cover their tracks. Aaron Cross is training in Alaska when the agency turns on him, he barely escapes with his life and manages to fool his superiors into thinking he is dead. Cross then sets about tracking down Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Wiesz), a doctor involved with the “Outcome” program and it’s agents. Dr. Shearing produced the “Chems” that give “Outcome” agents their enhanced abilities and treats them for withdrawal symptoms, which Cross begins to suffer from.
Cross, now aware that the Department of Defense has ordered his assassination, wants to remove his dependency on his “Chems” and to drop off the grid entirely (Similar to Jason Bourne). The higher ups are desperate to erase all evidence of their incriminating projects and therefore want to make sure that Cross won’t ever talk about his experiences.
It sounds interesting on paper, but too familiar. This movie could have been so much more given what it had to work with and the end result just feels like a cash-grab. The Bourne Legacy has some good points going for it but it really feels like a letdown and falls short of the standard set by the previous trilogy.
The film’s strongest element lies with it’s main character Aaron Cross. Cross is easily the equal of Jason Bourne in terms of physicality and intelligence, he just isn’t given a lot of space to develop. I know I’m being unfair here because Jason Bourne had three movies to himself whereas Aaron Cross (so far) only has one, but this just makes me wonder “Why did they go with another character? Why not stick with Jason Bourne?”. We eventually learn about the events that led to Aaron Cross becoming part of the “Outcome” program but compared to the depth of the story we got with Jason Bourne it doesn’t come close to matching the standard.
Cross’s fighting style is very much in the same vein as Bourne’s and their creativity in escaping situations is similar but impressive. In terms of fight scene choreography The Bourne Legacy truly is a Bourne movie. Fights are fast, frantic, and brutal to watch when they appear but eventually end up nose diving into absurdity towards the end of the movie.
Character development is here, motivation is here, and the action is competently pulled off for the most part but where this movie really falls flat on it’s face is when the audience is not with Jeremy Renner and the plot tries to move forward elsewhere. Aaron Cross aside the plot and it’s pacing is an absolute mess to the extent it takes longer to get going than The Dark Knight Rises did, but to make it worse when it does get going developments end up either being implausible or descend to the level of blatant Deus Ex Machina.
Deus Ex Machina by definition is a story element introduced that is completely artificial to the plot and seems to come out of nowhere, it perfectly (and politely) describes what happens in the final act of this movie. When the plot is not revealing ‘Taiwanese Terminators’ it is following Eric Byer (Edward Norton) as he yells orders at people while looking thoroughly distraught at the prospect of his whole world caving in. This brings me to another big problem this movie has: We’ve seen this all before, and done better. During the original trilogy you truly believed that Jason Bourne was in constant danger whilst being pursued by Treadstone. Aaron Cross however is being pursued by the CIA who I’m pretty sure are not as incompetent as they are shown here, seriously – why is Cross even worried about them? Eric Byer knows this and at one point is furious at his subordinates for giving Cross a 19-hour head start through sheer incompetence. It gets to such a point of incompetence that Byer is forced to unleash the terminator (No, I’m not letting that go!) because he cannot trust his own people to do their jobs properly. Compared to what Bourne went through with Treadstone for three movies Cross really has it easy here. Other plot developments either get very little explanation or no explanation at all and leave the audience scratching their heads, the previous Bourne movies did not suffer from this problem thanks to their stellar story and screen writers – the crew from the trilogy is sorely missing here.
For me, this movie was a huge let down. I was expecting an expansion of the setting the Bourne trilogy had established but instead got ‘Diet Bourne’ – I really cannot sum it up any better. The action is up to standard and the main character is engaging but everything else feels so glaringly sub par that you will not be able to ignore it. Has this franchise now well and truly ran out of steam? The pessimist in me says yes but the way The Bourne Legacy ends tells me that studios are not willing to zip up the body bag just yet. Despite all of my criticisms there is one bigger crime this movie commits: It takes the well done conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum and throws it out the window during it’s final scene. It’s one thing to make a poor movie bearing the name Bourne in it’s title but when you obviously go out of your way to undo Paul Greengrass’s good work in his last Bourne film then you’ve really crossed the line.
-Plot is completely implausible -Forgettable cast (minus Jeremy Renner) -Pacing is an absolute mess -Obvious use of Deus Ex Machina -Undoes the work done and triumphant ending shown at the end of the previous trilogy
Jeremy Renner does his best but he alone cannot salvage “The Bourne Legacy”, which is sure to anger fans of the original trilogy for being somewhat of a cash grab. “The Bourne Legacy” scores high on delivering action sequences but the script writers and director need to back to college to learn how to write a coherent story.