The Bourne Legacy
Directed by Tony Gilroy. Starring Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn, Corey Stoll, Michael Papajohn, Dennis Boutsikaris, Zeljko Ivanek, Oscar Isaac, David Strathairn. Written by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy.
A rock-solid if straightforward and somewhat underwhelming continuation of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy has a lot to live up to, coming off the heels of some of the most popular action movies of the past decade. Minus director Paul Greengrass, who set a new standard in the previous two movies with his hyperkinetic shooting and editing style that has been endlessly (and mostly, unsuccessfully) imitated, and star Matt Damon, who developed himself as an action hero in the role of Jason Bourne, this latest film also has a lot of holes to fill.
But The Bourne Legacy was directed and co-written by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity), who also wrote the previous three films in the series, based off the trilogy of spy novels by Robert Ludlum. Despite Ludlum’s death in 2001, the series has continued under writer Eric Van Lustbader, who has authored (so far) six further books beginning with Legacy (note: this film borrows Legacy’s title, but nothing else from the novel, which follows the further exploits of Jason Bourne.)
With Damon off the project and Jason Bourne absent from the film save for some dialogue references (the beginning of Legacy overlaps with the final third of The Bourne Ultimatum), we need a new hero; enter Bourne-like super-agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), currently on a training exercise in the Alaskan wilderness.
Cross has no Bourne-like memory loss: he’s simply serving his country and honing his abilities in the secret super soldier program. Throughout much of the film, his main goal is obtaining the meds that make him a super soldier – green pills that increase his strength and blue ones that increase his psyche. This brings him into contact with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), his former doctor in the program.
Oh, and he’s also trying to avoid getting killed, which is how the higher-ups – Eric Byer (Edward Norton), Mark Turso (Stacey Keach), and Terence Ward (Dennis Boutsikaris) – attempt to end the super soldier program after Bourne’s exploits and other political subterfuge has put the program in jeopardy: just eliminate all the active agents. It’s nice to see Norton and Keach here (and Boutsikaris, and Corey Stoll, Michael Chernus, and Donna Murphy, who all figure in the “control room”), but we spend an inordinate amount of time with them in a single setting, especially in the film’s first half, with endless exposition setting up a disarmingly routine story.
That story being, in a nutshell: get meds and survive. A lot of the previous films was Damon’s Bourne on the run and Bourne in action, but there was also some genuine interest in his mysterious backstory, an angle that is completely absent from Legacy. As the writer of smart, complex films (even the light comedy Duplicity proved too complicated for some viewers), Gilroy (along with brother Dan Gilroy) has turned a surprisingly straightforward script. I’m usually a sucker for competent, single-minded action films, which The Bourne Legacy absolutely is, but as a major summer blockbuster, something felt missing here.
Gilroy does, however, deserve a lot of credit on the directing end: Legacy is a tight, fast-paced ride that rarely pauses long enough to lose its audience; despite stretching out a 90-minute story into a 135-minute running time, the film never feels as long as it actually is. And Gilroy rarely attempts to channel Paul Greengrass (well, maybe during the action scenes); viewers who complained about nauseating camerawork in the previous films will be especially thankful for the more traditional filmmaking on display here.
While Damon’s Bourne is absent from the film, many of the supporting characters turn up in cameo appearances to tie the films together: Scott Glenn’s Ezra Kramer, Albert Finney’s Albert Hirsch, David Strathairn’s Noah Vosen, and Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy.
The Bourne Legacy is framed mostly as an origin story for Aaron Cross; he isn’t as interesting a character as Jason Bourne, but the always-capable Renner is dynamite in the role. The film also represents a welcome return to the Bourne universe, and while ultimately little of note seems to happen here, the stage is set for potential sequels involving the further adventures of Cross or even (should Damon return to the role) Bourne.