A Bourne movie without Bourne? Why the heck not?
The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment of the Bourne franchise and it’s the first in the series without Matt Damon, who played the titular Jason Bourne in the first three films (Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum). Instead, we get a pretty darn good replacement, Jeremy Renner, who I have been a fan of since The Hurt Locker and then became a massive fan of following The Town. And being Hawkeye in The Avengers didn’t hurt either.
It needs to made clear, however, that Renner is not playing Jason Bourne — he is Aaron Cross, another super soldier created by the US government. So why is a guy named Cross in a film with someone else’s name in the title? Well apparently, Damon’s decision to walk away from the franchise was only “temporary” because he and Paul Greengrass, the director of the first three films, didn’t think the studio gave them enough time to do this fourth film justice.
What this means is that The Bourne Legacy takes place in the same universe and is a continuation of the Bourne story but focuses on a different central character. You see photos of Bourne and he is repeatedly mentioned by the government and the press, but he’s supposedly hiding somewhere so that Aaron Cross can do his thing.
It does feel kinda weird watching a Bourne film where he isn’t in it, but I suppose Tony Gilroy, who was a co-writer on the first three films and wrote and directed this one, did the best he could under the circumstances. It certainly helps that the intense Renner plays a very different character to Bourne and is a killer badass in his own right.
That said, I don’t think the script is as brilliant as it pretends to be. We studied Gilroy’s Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton script in my screenwriting class, which I admired greatly for its confident dialogue and ability to keep the audience hooked by thrusting them into a world which has to be gradually pieced together, bit by bit, to understand what the heck is going on. You are constantly wondering what people are saying and doing throughout the film, and it’s not until the pieces start falling together that it all starts to make sense.
Gilroy employs the same technique for this film, but if you really think about it, all the pieces don’t exactly fall into place or fit together. He sets up a lot of “mysteries” as a device to keep the audience engaged, but never ends up answering them in the end. Perhaps it was this kind of uneven writing that prompted Damon to call Gilroy’s The Bourne Ultimatum script a “career killer.”
Another problem is that the forced references to Jason Bourne can be confusing for viewers who aren’t completely across the history of the franchise. I have watched all the earlier films in the series but to be honest I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, which made it a little frustrating at times when the characters rambled on about the various government projects and some scandal that was being played out in the media. I also recognised returning actors such as Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen, but I had trouble remembering who they were. I imagine I’m not the only one who struggled with this aspect of the film.
But let’s face it, the plots of the Bourne films have always been secondary to their well-crafted suspense and action, and that’s where The Bourne Legacy also shines. The Bourne Legacy carries on the franchise’s tradition of “realistic” action that avoids reliance on CGI, which is made more impressive considering that Renner apparently performed almost all of his own stunts (talk about being devoted to the craft). The final extended action sequence, in particular, is probably the best in the entire series, and that says a lot.
I can’t believe I have written this much and not mentioned the two newcomers to the franchise, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton. Weisz plays a doctor who is involved in the medical aspect of the program while Norton is the new guy trying to hunt the super soldier down. Norton offers the better performance but is given the short end of the stick in the script, where he can disappear for long stretches and be completely forgotten at times. Weisz, on the other hand, is gifted some of the best scenes in the film, including one outstandingly horrific sequence at the laboratory where she works, and another later on at her house. It’s scenes like these that demonstrated Gilroy’s ability as a director — someone who knows how to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. And he isn’t as big of a fan of the shaky hand-held camera as Greengrass, which for me was a huge plus.
On the whole, The Bourne Legacy is a rather flawed movie and might be regarded by some as a “filler” film that can make the franchise more money while it waits for Damon to return. But what I can’t deny is that it is still an excellent flick purely from an action and suspense perspective and that Renner is absolutely dynamite as the new super soldier on the block. Damon has left open the salivating possibility of returning to the franchise in the future, which in an ideal world would put both him and Renner on screen at the same time. That would be awesome.
3.5 stars out of 5