Not as much a reboot as it is a continuation of the mythology
Universal Pictures was put into an unenviable situation when production began on The Bourne Legacy. The studio was essentially making another installment of its billion-dollar franchise with neither the director of the last two Bourne features (Paul Greengrass) nor its star (Matt Damon). Directors come and go, but how could the series continue without the face of the franchise? It would be one thing if this was James Bond, where inserting a new 007 agent was strange at first – Roger Moore replacing Sean Connery (blasphemy) – but then became routine. However, this time around, Bourne has been substituted by a new agent altogether, and Bourne is only used as a reference to make audiences remember that this is part of the Bourne series.
Tony Gilroy, who has been the pen behind the franchise, taking Robert Ludlum’s literary character and making loose adaptations of his three novels, has created a risk-taking venture that will either move the series in a new direction or fail, be a one and done. Prior to the release of The Bourne Identity, you’d be hard pressed to thinkMatt Damon: Action Hero. But a hero he became; so impressive that the transformation served as a punch line in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The franchise was also instrumental, for better or worse, at influencing current action movies in terms of editing and fight choreography. Just look at the change in tone and style of the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig as the current 007.
Instead of trying to repeat the original trilogy beat for beat and have the protagonist be an amnesiac, The Bourne Legacy instead looks to expand on the world of black ops and explore how prevalent Treadstone and its ancillary programs are at making highly effective foreign operatives, be they assassins or clandestine spies. The tagline may read, “there was never just one,” but there is only one Jason Bourne. This is the story of Aaron Cross.
Playing off the chronology of the series, Legacy takes place during and after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, as there are references to Bourne on the news and the fallout of Operation Blackbriar with CIA Deputy Director Pam Landy (Joan Allen) acting as the whistleblower.
With light being shed on Blackbriar, Jason Bourne indirectly aired some dirty laundry that the CIA wishes stayed under wraps. As a result, the dominos begin to fall as the specialized R&D wing of the Agency decides to prevent other Treadstone-like programs from being made public, including a program called Outcome. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), known as Outcome Agent #5 – whoever designed this program must be a big fan of The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan, seriously – bares more resemblance to Captain America than Jason Bourne. He’s a super soldier, genetically enhanced to increase performance mentally and physically. Cross takes both a green pill and a blue pill to ensure his agility and pain management remain tiptop. Without the pills, Cross would see abilities return to normalcy, including a substantial drop in intelligence. So what does any self-respecting drug-abuser do – he goes looking for his next fix. Enter Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), the geneticist that poked and prodded Cross during a series of tests.
Switching from a man trying to figure out who he is to a protagonist who resembles a crack addict, albeit one who has a high tolerance for winter extremes and can easily disarm hourly-wage security cops, is an interesting direction to take. Jeremy Renner plays his part admirably, but lacks a certain allure that was instrumental in Damon’s action hero turn with The Bourne Identity. Cross is not a mystery; he knows who he is. Pictures of him pre-Outcome show a damaged man, from injuries sustained in combat. Wanting to be more than just a moralist grunt, he joins the program but asks far too many questions than be subservient to its directives.
Those looking for an action-heavy thriller may walk away disappointed. Three major action sequences take place, including a dirt bike chase through the traffic-clogged streets of Manila. The chase may not be as elaborately staged as Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, but it feels just as long. Missing from the installment is Cross facing off against super soldiers like him in hand-to-hand combat.
The Bourne Legacy is heavy on exposition, offering background information on Treadstone, Blackbriar and Outcome and the specialized medicine Cross ingests. It comes across as jargon, and it seems to be used as a means to expand the mythology about this specialized program of black ops. Unfortunately, Tony Gilroy fails to capitalize on this, instead going the expected route with the second half of the movie focusing on the action. Gilroy also doesn’t exploit a flashback showing Cross despondent after a mission goes fubar due to bad intelligence information. Had they played up this angle than the crack-addicted/devil may care approach, it would have added another layer to his already blunt instrument character.
Legacy does not act as a standalone or a spin-off of the original Bourne trilogy. At the very least The Bourne Ultimatum should be viewed by those who want to have a fresh idea about Treadstone and Blackbriar. By the time the film wrapped I half expected to see “Jeremy Renner returns as Aaron Cross in The Bourne Equalizer (or something) in Summer 2014″ in the end credits. That didn’t happen. I’m confident we’ll see more of this franchise in the future even though it may require Bourne to be born again.
Director: Tony Gilroy Writer: Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy; based on characters created by Robert Ludlum Notable Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Stacy Keach, Edward Norton, Donna Murphy
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!