The Bourne Legacy Directed by Tony Gilroy
Written by Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney
Rated PG-13 | 135 minutes
“There was never just one.”
In the wake of Jason Bourne’s dismantling of Operation Blackbriar, the CIA decides to dispose of their other black ops programs and terminate their remaining field agents.
Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a genetically-enhanced agent from Operation Outcome, escapes his execution and, with the reluctant help of Outcome scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), sets out to expose the atrocities of his superiors.
Directed by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), The Bourne Legacy is the fourth installment in the Bourne series, based on Robert Ludlum‘s spy-thriller novels. Gilroy’s film, however, is based off a 2004 novel by Eric Van Lustbader. With permission from the estate of Robert Ludlum, Lustbader picked up the Bourne series where Ludlum left off with 1990’s The Bourne Ultimatum. Since 2004, Lustbader has written seven additional Bourne novels – which means Universal Pictures has plenty of material to mine for future sequels.
The Bourne Legacy‘s plot begins about two-thirds of the way through The Bourne Ultimatum, intercutting non-Jason Bourne scenes from Ultimatum throughout the film to communicate that these events are happening simultaneously. When we first meet Cross, he’s on a training mission in the wilds of Alaska. The first act of the film feels like The Grey meets Cliffhanger, with Renner’s character traversing treacherous terrain, super-jumping chasms, and fist-fighting wolves.
Cross is a genetically-engineered super spy, thanks to some nifty pills (or “chems” as they’re constantly referred to) that allow his body and mind to operate at higher levels of efficiency. When the CIA decides to pull the plug on their super soldier program, Cross narrowly escapes his execution. Low on pills, he tracks down a scientist (Weisz) with Operation Outcome and attempts to inject himself with a virus that will permanently enhance his superhuman abilities.
Jason Bourne was only the tip of the iceberg, a prototype for the government’s goal of achieving Behavioral Design – the ability to essentially program a human being with whatever behavior necessary for a situation. Cross is one step closer to that frightening reality, and when he goes rogue, the CIA has to dispatch their latest weapon, a mysterious assassin known as LARX-3 – the human equivalent to The Terminator, a mindless killing machine that won’t stop until its objective is completed.
Actually, The Bourne Legacy is very much the clandestine government conspiracy version of James Cameron’s The Terminator. You have Cross and Shearing as Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, on the run, shacking up in hotel rooms and nursing each other’s wounds while a cold-blooded killer hunts them down… on a motorcycle.
The action sequences are the same stock set pieces we’ve seen in the previous three Bourne films (and the previous 22 James Bond films for that matter). Cross scrambles across rooftops and runs through narrow alleys, delivering bone-crushing attacks before inevitably jumping on a motorbike and swerving through the crowded streets of Manila, Philippines like Trinity from The Matrix. He even finds time to throw on some cool shades, channeling Terminator 2: Judgment Day as he attempts to escape his would-be assassin (who is now driving a police motorcycle ala T-1000).
From a performance perspective, Renner, Weisz, and Norton do a good job with what they’re given. Even when the script is at its most incoherent, you can at least follow the character motivations. It’s unfortunate that Weisz has little to do here – she spends most of the film crawling around on the floor avoiding gunshots or being rescued by Renner. From 28 Weeks Later to The Hurt Locker, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, Renner is quickly becoming typecast as the mysterious loner with pinpoint accuracy who kicks a lot of ass. He’s a great actor, and I can’t blame him for cashing in on his well-earned popularity, but I’m eager to see him do something different.
The interesting thing about the Bourne trilogy was seeing Matt Damon transform into a bad-ass. As Paul Rudd points out in 40-Year-Old Virgin, “I always thought Matt Damon was a Streisand, but I think he’s rockin’ the shit in this one!” Here, you immediately recognize Renner as an action hero before you find out he’s genetically-enhanced. It’s kind of like seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier – they don’t need cybernetic implants, they’re already established ass-kickers!
The Bourne Legacy is a disappointing, sleep-inducing spy-thriller that isn’t really thrilling. Actually, it’s kind of boring. The script feels less like a story and more like a math equation that needs to be solved. Everything is cold, calculated, and ultimately soulless. Without Matt Damon, I’m left wondering why this series continues. Legacy ends on such an anti-climatic note that Gilroy must be confident he’ll get a trilogy out of the deal – and he probably will. If I were Universal Pictures, I’d be working on getting Damon back in the mix to team-up with Renner, because I’m not sure anyone wants to watch another Bourne film without Jason Bourne in it.