Ok – let’s get something out of the way from the start. Something we should all be able to agree on. Jason Bourne does not appear in Bourne Legacy (other than in fleeting references). The film does not directly follow or add to his story as it unfolded in the first three films. Matt Damon is not in Bourne Legacy. Get over it.
What the film does instead is follow some of the aftermath of Bourne’s actions, in parallel, as they unfold over the course of the timeframe of Bourne Ultimatum. Hence the title ‘Legacy’ – as in something left in something else’s wake. Get it?
What I would say however, is that the film is very definitely set in Bourne’s world, with overlapping storylines, similar style/action and it explores many of the same themes.
In this case, the story follows Project Outcome agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) as he too finds himself the target of his intelligence puppet-masters (led here ably by Edward Norton) as they try to cover their tracks and stem any possible fallout from Bourne’s public revelations via Pamela Landy. Is Cross/Renner better or worse than Bourne/Damon? That is a very subjective judgement, but objectively I would argue he is neither better nor worse; he is just different – and some of the differences made for an entertaining and interesting contrast for me.
Cross is a similar type of covert operative to Bourne, but in Project Outcome he has been the subject of experimental mind and body enhancing drug treatments (‘chems’) which enhance his physical and cognitive abilities and endurance. Along with genetic scientist/gene therapist Doctor Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), he finds himself one of only two survivors when his shady bosses decide to ‘dismantle’ the project to cover their tracks. How the two hook up and evade capture and assassination is the crux of Bourne Legacy.
For me watching Cross’s story unfold was an interesting contrast to watching Bourne. Renner physically and emotionally is a very different sort of actor, and making the Cross character fresh is far better than providing a pale imitation of Bourne. Cross operates at a different level to Bourne here: whilst Bourne (mainly due to his amnesia) was always operating reactively, Cross is equally efficient in reacting to the situation as it unfolds, and equally unstoppable, but does not have the handicap of that particular plot device. He knows exactly what is going on from the get-go, and even where the bigger picture has been kept from him he knows exactly where to look for the missing pieces. The calmness and emotional stability brought to the character by this greater degree of control, which in turn feeds into his relationship with the courageous but utterly terrified Shearing (Weisz), works well.
For her part, Weisz provides a totally believable doctor/scientist, and her courage and vulnerability make her sympathetic despite some of the dubious things she has done at the behest of her drug company employer and their shady government allies/customers. Even Norton, always worth watching, as puppet-master Col. Eric Byer is a well-rounded enough character to accept that whilst his actions are thoroughly deplorable and reprehensible, he clearly feels that he is doing his duty; that which however unpleasant, must be done for the greater good. Other noteworthy but minor support is provided by the likes of Scott Glen and Stacy Keach.
Writer and first-time Bourne director Tony Gilroy is bound to be compared unfavourably to previous trilogy director Paul Greengrass, but for me the direction and importantly the action was good, and knitted fairly seamlessly into the previous films. Let’s remember what an enormous challenge taking over this existing franchise must have been for all concerned; and Greengrass and Damon had three movies to develop their story and style after all; so to (perhaps futilely) compare and criticise this fourth instalment in isolation would be a little short-sighted.
At its heart a simple (but at the same time complex) chase/escape fantasy, the film continues the same themes from the original movies: the question of whether actions, however heinous, can always be justified in the name of ‘national security’; who makes those decisions and who is accountable; and how the people at the sharp end (agents or soldiers) are prepared, trained and supported (or not as the case may be). Is anyone ever expendable and is any collateral damage really acceptable? All those sorts of questions are here.
Legacy threw up a couple of particularly interesting points for me. One was emphasising again the classic Bourne idea that often the ‘cog in the machine’, however highly trained and efficient, is at the end of the day a thinking, feeling human being; and despite efforts to suppress this fact may well at some point start to think and question policy for themselves (and rightly so). The other, new theme to Legacy, was the involvement of the big drug company with their dubious ‘scientists’. This corporate influence also resonated with me, right down to their outsourced, off-shored production operation in The Philippines. The fact that Pamela Landy’s public revelations and efforts to bring the accountable to justice at the end of Ultimatum are not as clear cut as they may have seemed to be also rings true.
The film for me was sufficiently developed to stand in its own right, whilst leaving plenty of scope for further adventures and revelations. Even, dare I say it, as another reviewer has observed, the possibility of a hook-up between Cross and Bourne who are now both ‘in the wild’. Even if that never happens, I would happily watch Renner reprise Cross in another movie.
If you enjoyed the first three films (and I did, enormously), there is no reason whatsoever that you won’t enjoy Bourne Legacy (unless you are simply the world’s biggest Matt Damon fan).
Just remember – this is not a Jason Bourne film. It is his legacy.