The Bourne Legacy runs parallel to the events of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. While Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is wrecking havoc in New York, the CIA is attempting to bottle-up the rest of their Treadstone and Black Brier operatives, hoping to contain the issue rather than compound it. Stepping in for Damon is Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross and just as the leads in this franchise seem to be interchangeable so does the plot. Legacy is essentially The Bourne Identity all over again with Renner replacing Damon, Rachel Weisz replacing Franka Potente and chemical dependency and gene-splicing replacing amnesia. You’ve seen this film before and while it felt fresh in 2002, ten years later it’s moldy leftovers.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about Bourne Legacy is that it could have been so much more original and complex than writer/director Tony Gilroy decides to make it. Using the events of Ultimatum as a backdrop gives audiences an instant sense of immediacy as we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters behind the scenes, but inside a world we’re familiar with.
While Pam Landy (Joan Allen) and Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) — neither of which are in the film for more than a couple of minutes — are dealing with Jason Bourne we meet CIA top dogs Eric Byer (Ed Norton) and Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) as they find themselves not only dealing with Bourne who’s out to expose their clandestine operations, but are now concerned what might happen if the rest of the operatives they have in the field decide to do the same. Essentially, it’s time to bury Treadstone and Black Brier for good, but as the past has proven, it’s not so easy to kill these guys… enter the MacGuffin.
Gilroy is said to have spent two years developing The Bourne Legacy and putting together what was at one point referred to as a “Bourne Bible,” something to help set up the entire world these films exist in and continue the franchise on and on. In so doing, he gave these Treadstone operatives a chemical dependency. Green pill for strength, blue pill for intelligence and down the rabbit hole we go.
Participants in the program were not only trained to be the world’s best spies, they became biologically engineered to be stronger and smarter than average humans. The catch is in creating their dependency on these “chems” to function. Thus the CIA is able to keep these dogs on a leash.
So, as the CIA attempts to wipe out their operatives, one escapes, Aaron Cross (Renner). He’s none-too-happy about his employers trying to kill him and he’s in desperate need of medication. His survival instincts kick in and we’re whisked around the world from Alaska to Chicago to the Philippines.
Renner is a decent stand-in for Damon, and while amnesia may not be his major damage, there is a confusing bit about Cross’ background before entering the program, but it seems so pointless I couldn’t help but wonder why it was mentioned at all.
But any and all slight differences aside, hearing James Newton Howard’s score (stepping in for John Powell, but mimicking his notes), seeing the moves and watching as Cross evades police during a rooftop chase, drives a motorcycle at break-neck speeds in a foreign country and is doing all he can to escape those that want to see him dead all you can think of is, “Yeah, I’ve seen Jason Bourne do all of this.” Gilroy keeps the redundancy going so far as to add yet another op program to the mix.
What, Treadstone didn’t work? Let’s try Black Brier. What, Black Brier failed? Let’s try Larx instead… Really? Larx? The name is a dead giveaway for how unimaginative it is. Gimme a break, come up with something new or just let things be.
Even more frustrating is looking back at what is built in the first 30 or so minutes of Legacy and thinking how interesting it could have all been. Such as a female operative in Japan. Why focus on a Jason Bourne clone as opposed to exploring what kind of different tactics a woman in the same position might explore? At every moment this film could have been different from the three Bourne predecessors, but instead it literally kills off any chance of that happening.
For those hoping the inclusion of Ed Norton would somehow spice things up, forget it. Norton’s Eric Byer is a new version of Pam Landy, Noah Vosen or Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn). Take your pick. They are all CIA big wigs standing around looking at computer screens and security cameras while barking orders.
To Gilroy’s credit he does keep the intensity high and the two hour and 15 minute running time never feels long, but once it’s over you can’t help but say to yourself, “That’s it?” The film plays so closely to everything you’ve seen before you get to the end and are still hoping for something new. It’s as if you’ve waited for the “new” story to start, but by the time the credits roll you realize you’re just going to have to keep on waiting.