The “Bourne” action/thriller movie series (“The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”) based on bestselling books by Robert Ludlum and starring Matt Damon—are some of the best-executed action/thriller movies out there. Action is the key component that drives them and yet one never gets bored during any of them. They’re superbly paced, never hitting any rough patches that might slow their rapid-fire momentum.
And still, there was enough story and character development that made them more than just a serious of action scenes. All the various writers and directors (Doug Liman directed “Identity” and Paul Greengrass helmed the next two) crafted a complex and tangled web of conspiracy and corruption in all three of the films. They created a fascinating character in Jason Bourne, a man on the hunt for his true identity. We could root for him but at the same time he was far from perfect.
“The Bourne Legacy,” the latest installment in the series, at least gets the execution right. It’s co-written and directed by Tony Gilroy (who helped write the first three) so the movie has the same exhilarating “go, go, go” fluidness that the first three had. There are some wonderfully staged and choreographed action scenes and the pacing is still solid. However, it’s the story and characters where the picture falters.
“The Bourne Legacy” ushers in a new (but similar) “Bourne” environment containing a new project and fugitive, going by the name of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a new set of suits to observe him from a command center and another menacing looking assassin to challenge him. The events of “Legacy” also coincide with the various happenings in “Ultimatum.” Not a bad way to start off a new chapter with fresh faces, and Gilroy and crew do their best to make things exciting, but ultimately “Legacy” is a letdown and feels like a trivial way to kickstart a potential new series.
The story begins rather confusingly. Treadstone, the secret branch of the CIA responsible for making Bourne into the super smart, super strong spy he was, is under investigation for illegal activities. At this time Bourne (unseen) is still causing trouble for them in New York and they’re trying to cover their tracks, which means preventing people from testifying at Senate hearings and getting rid of other projects they’re working on. One of those projects is called Outcome and that's where Aaron Cross comes in. Cross is currently in Alaska, supposedly doing training. He navigates his way through the wilderness taking special drugs that change his genetics, making him super strong and smart as well.
One day Cross is greeted by a military drone plane that tries to blow him up. Luckily, being as strong and resourceful as he is, he’s able to shoot the plane down and escape. Along the way he teams up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachael Weisz), who works at a research facility that handles the drugs and sends the different projects (including Cross) on their way. She’s also on the Treadstone hit list and she knows where the drugs are. Cross needs to keep taking them on a regular basis or else his system will shut down.
Let’s start off with the fact that “Legacy” coincides with “Ultimatum.” A great approach to take to a new character and a new world. Unfortunately, the two storylines don’t really intersect with one another. There’s no purpose for both stories to be shown. Aaron Cross’s story never once directly affects the events or the people in the “Ultimatum” story. It’s simply just…there, happening at the same time.
Now, I could look past that if the Aaron Cross’s odyssey was just as compelling as Jason Bourne’s, but it isn’t. Bourne had to solve the mystery of his own identity but Aaron Cross’s journey feels more routine, a “he was supposed to be dead but now he’s a fugitive” plot line. There’s less at stake in this movie, less of a mystery. As a result not much is accomplished. Even the drug aspect (a potentially fascinating piece) isn’t as flushed out as it could have been. It gets quickly resolved towards the end.
Speaking of the end, what’s perhaps most disappointing about “Legacy” is that it’s ending isn’t satisfying. The endings to the first three “Bourne” movies provided closure but also left us looking forward to the next one, whereas this ending leaves practically everything open, like it’s demanding a sequel.
I have no issues with the acting. Renner is a worthy successor to Damon. He’s tough, poised and also playful, adding personality and likability. But even Renner’s appeal can’t make up for the character’s blandness. The great thing about Bourne was that he had a duality about him. On the one hand he’s a cold-blooded killer and on the other he feels remorseful about the people he’s killed. While Cross is just a guy trying to do good and trying to find drugs. Not terrible but a little dull.
Again, I commend Gilroy and co. for trying to make another thrilling and stimulating “Bourne” picture and they do a bang-up job with the presentation. But “Legacy” doesn’t have the story or characters to support it. As fantastic as the first three “Bourne” films looked, their rich story and characters counted for a hell of a lot.