REVIEW: 'The Bourne Legacy'
Forget about assassins or international surveillance – Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross has a bigger problem on his hands. Winning over fans of the Bourne series means convincing us the series can be just as smart and thrilling without its previous star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass. Doing so has been a huge task – leading to public feuds and heavy scrutiny of the production.
I went into The Bourne Legacy confident that it could live up to its predecessors – and it looks like I was right. Legacy is a smart spy thriller that – surprisingly - goes easy on action and spends most of its time building the story. While the supporting cast isn’t the most electrifying, the movie is a great place to start off with Renner’s character, and I’m looking forward to more.
The story opens in the Alaskan wilderness with a fun visual reference to the previous series, and we’re introduced to Aaron Cross, a highly-trained agent of the American government. Cross is part of an experimental program that uses genetic mutation to enhance its human assets. But Cross becomes a target of his own employers when Jason Bourne’s war on CIA comes home.
With the government shutting down the program, Cross has to find a way to access the high-tech drugs that are keeping him not only fighting fit, but mentally alert. Without his “chems”, Cross won’t have the ability to fight off the people who want him dead, and so he embarks on a mission to free himself from the medical and psychological hold his employers have on him and others like him.
One of the movie’s main strengths is that Cross’ main mission, his search for the drugs, sets his story apart from that of Jason Bourne. Cross is not some clone of Bourne who wants to help take down the people who created him. He wants to stay alive, and to do that means kicking his need for the medication. So Cross allies himself with another victim of the program’s shutdown: Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who helped develop the medication in the beginning.
Cross’ dilemma is an interesting one. He truly needs the medication to stay a step ahead of his enemies, because we learn that before he was recruited, he was just an Army grunt with a low I.Q. Cross is not Bourne; he can’t do what Bourne did without the help of the chems. The Outcome program made him extraordinary, and he needs to stay that way if he’s going to survive.
Call it reverse Bourne: whereas Bourne feared what he became after joining the program, and wanted to get back to the man he was, Cross seems at peace with his new identity, and resents the person he used to be. Writer/director Tony Gilroy, who helped write the other three films, proves that it’s time to explore a new part of the Bourne universe, and let Jason Bourne’s character have the peace he fought for.
The movie that revolves around this story isn’t perfect. It’s worth noting that even though there are some big names in the supporting cast, they aren’t well used. Rachel Weisz has a good early scene where she wrestles with being a target of the government, and we start to gain some subtle insights into her researcher character. But once she teams up with Cross, she becomes more of a means to the end of Cross kicking his dependence on the meds.
Edward Norton’s character Eric Byer had an opportunity to be a very good antagonist for Cross, but his character isn’t developed enough. Even though there are hints that Byer might return in the way Pam Landy (Joan Allen) did in The Bourne Ultimatum, he doesn’t do enough here to make us care, and it’s a shame.
The Bourne Legacy features fewer action scenes than previous installments, but the balance of the movie still felt right. Tense sections of script are punctuated by both short sequences of action and longer chase scenes. It forces you to pay more attention to what the characters are saying, and it means that the movie doesn’t abuse the genetic enhancement premise. The abilities of Cross and his fellow assets are still believable, so it’s not like we’re watching some kind of superhero movie.
I’m hoping that audiences give The Bourne Legacy a chance. It makes a few mistakes, but does an efficient job of distancing itself from the Jason Bourne arc. More importantly, it allows future films to explore the world around the Bourne character, to dig into other themes and ideas. Like Cross’ experimental treatments, this new movie only enhances what we already know and appreciate about the Bourne series. For that reason, The Bourne Legacy gets three stars out of four.
What did you think about The Bourne Legacy? Did it live up to the Matt Damon movies? Or is it just a quick cash-grab? Is Renner’s character strong enough to anchor a new series? Join the discussion in the comments section! If you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers, and check out my other reviews (on movies new and old!):
Reviews of Classic Movies: