With Jason Bourne having helped expose the CIA’s Black Ops programme Treadstone, the agency sets about covering its tracks. In particular, Colonel Byer (Norton) decides to shut down his own supersoldier programme – where the participants are given ongoing medication to enhance themselves both mentally and physically – meaning that all agents and scientists involved have to be wiped out. Surviving an attack, enhanced agent Aaron Cross (Renner) goes on the run with surviving Doctor Marta Shearing (Weisz), hoping to get more medication before he suffers the negative side-effects of withdrawal…
How do you make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne? That was the big question facing the creative team after it was decided that the series would continue without star Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass (who helmed the second and third instalments), with both feeling (correctly) that the story had been told. Stepping into the breach, writer-director Tony Gilroy is as good a choice as any (having penned all three previous Bourne movies), but while he does an admirable job given the situation, ultimately (and rather inevitably) The Bourne Legacy isn’t nearly as vital as the preceding three. It’s a solid spy thriller, sure, but nothing as memorable as we’re used to.
Still, instead of opting for a prequel (no), a reboot (double no) or re-casting Bourne (double-o no), Gilroy and his writers cleverly opt for a sideways-sequel which (roughly) takes place at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum. As such, viewers are advised to watch or revisit the Damon trilogy first, as it’s more than likely that newcomers will be somewhat confused by the brief glimpses afforded to previous events and faces (such as Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine and Scott Glenn). At 135 minutes it’s also surprisingly long (there’s another overlong climactic chase sequence), but as a talky affair thankfully shot with a tripod, Legacy still acts as a nice remedy for those who didn’t respond to Greengrass’ frenetic shaky-cam and minimalistic dialogue. Plus, there’s a clear affection for the series here, with nice touches for the fans scattered throughout (an opening shot of a man in the water, the closing sounds of the franchise’s signature tune).
Having impressed in notable actioners like The Hurt Locker, The Town and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the hot-right-now Jeremy Renner is a good choice in an utterly thankless role. But while more than capable at both ass-kicking and the occasional dose of dramatics, he’s not able to convey the same existentialist angst as Damon (an unfair comparison perhaps, but an inevitable one), meaning that Cross isn’t nearly as compelling a protagonist. Additionally, there isn’t much chemistry between him and Rachel Weisz (nowhere near the natural sizzle Damon and Franka Potente achieved), while a silver-dashed Ed Norton delivers maximum Ed Nortoniness as the resident classy-actor-who-pulls-the-strings-from-headquarters antagonist.
While writer-director Tony Gilroy neatly side-steps the need for a prequel, reboot or re-casting, his sideways-sequel isn’t nearly as vital as the previous three. Still, it’s a nice remedy for those not enamoured with Paul Greengrass’ exhausting, rapid-editing style.