The Bourne Legacy (12a)
Directed by: Tony Gilroy.
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn and Donna Murphy.
Running Time: 130 mins.
An expansion of the universe from Robert Ludlum’s novels, centered on a new hero whose stakes have been triggered by the events of the previous three films.
Hollywood doesn’t like to let go of a good franchise. The Bourne series (Identity, Supermacy, Ultimatum) is one of those rare movie series where each movie improved upon the last as well as being financially successful. After the last outing, both director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon decided they didn’t want to do another Bourne movie, Hollywood had three choices: Let the franchise end, reboot it, or find some way to spin off the franchise and take it in a new direction. Deciding to go with the latter, they brought back writer Tony Gilroy who had been involved at script level with all three movies, not only to write, but also direct The Bourne Legacy.
The movie introduces us to a new main character, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) as he travels across snow covered mountains in the middle of nowhere. Cross is an agent, not of the Treadstone or Black Briar programs we’ve been shown before, but of the next stage – Program Outcome. Like those that came before it, Outcome is a training program to create an elite group of government assassins, with one minor difference – chemical enhancement. Each Outcome agent takes a regulated dosage of chemicals designed to enhance both their physical and mental dexterity while, as seen in flashbacks, being monitored by a group of doctors and scientists including Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Meanwhile, back in the real world, all hell is breaking loose as chatter has begun to spread that the story of Jason Bourne and the Treadstone/Black Briar programs is about to be made public by Guardian reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), prompting retired Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to start looking into any links between Treadstone/Black Briar and Outcome that may expose Outcome. When a link is found that could bring those and further programs to public light, the decision is made to clean house, starting with the Outcome agents and the scientists involved.
Firstly, Jeremy Renner is believable in the lead. Though his character is similar in that he is a trained assassin, he is not a carbon copy of the Jason Bourne character, here there’s no amnesia or question of who he is, and as a result he is a slightly less interesting character, but it allows for more complete flashbacks to establish his character’s background. He’s certainly competent in the action scenes, and though he’s not as strong a presence on screen as Matt Damon, it’s enough for him to carry the movie. Rachel Weisz has perhaps the weakest character, but is fully believable as the scientist in over her head and her performance is solid throughout, especially in earlier scenes where she is visibly terrified by what is going on around her. Edward Norton gives the strongest performance of the movie, with the strongest presence and confidence of his character on screen, he’s the driving force behind the clandestine operation that is trying to take out Cross and genuinely comes across as someone who is doing what he believes is right, not to protect himself, but to protect his country – as opposed to your atypical villain out to get the good guy.
An argument can be made for both those who have and haven’t seen the previous movies, with those who already know the previous movies being able to tie things together, while fresh viewers will be able to follow the new story, as the movie runs concurrently with the events of Ultimatum as a backdrop which helps to establish it as being in the same world but being its own story. There are several references early on to the earlier movies (the opening shot is a nice callback to the opening shot of Identity, and there’s a couple of references to composer John Powell’s Jason Bourne theme from the earlier movies by the series’ new composer James Newton-Howard), but the movie then makes the wise choice of staying away from repeated homages in order to tell its own story, eventually elaborating on the fallout of the events seen in Ultimatum. Helping to tie the movie in are cameo appearances by familiar faces such as Joan Allen (Pamela Landy), David Strathairn (Black Briar chief Noah Vosen), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Scott Glenn (CIA Director Ezra Kramer).
The movie has it’s fair share of issues. For one, there’s the issue of the shaky camera footage during the action sequences, which is something many took issue with in Paul Greengrass’ Supremacy and Ultimatum. It’s mostly evident during the movie’s climactic action sequence, a motorcycle chase which is well choreographed, but the camerawork leads to some slight confusion. Then there’s the use of flashbacks to establish Aaron Cross’ character – they feel almost too clean, though Cross isn’t suffering the amnesia that Bourne is, they aren’t as fragmented which is understandable, but because of this some of them do feel just like extra footage that was shoehorned in, there’s a nice attempt to use security footage instead of flashbacks on one occasion, and more clever ways of doing this would have helped to distance it from the Bourne flashbacks of the previous movies.
Though it is the weakest of the series story wise, as a spin-off/sequel it’s a far greater and entertaining movie than it really deserves to be. Like another Universal franchise sequel, The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, it’s infused more life into the franchise without being detrimental to the movies that came before, and leaves off with not only possibilities for further movies, but reasons for the Jason Bourne character to return, perhaps in a joint storyline.
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