The Bourne series of films were hugely influential to action film making. They even managed to force the action staple that is James Bond to change his game. Weaving tales of political intrigue with one man’s journey of self re-discovery and intense action they culminated in The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, one of modern cinema’s greatest action films. With the book seemingly closed on the series, they’ve decided to go back to the well without the major players of past installments and create a Bourne film without Bourne. Is The Bourne Legacy worthwhile? Do they succeed in their endeavor?
Right off the bat, The Bourne Legacy justifies its existence. Jason Bourne’s personal story may have been wrapped up in Ultimatum, but there are several threads left hanging, namely those of the effects he had on the CIA and those of the files that exposed the secret projects he was involved with. As the film’s tagline reads: “There was never just one”.
Legacy actually overlaps with Ultimatum a fair bit, as we see some of the things that transpire in that film from a new perspective. The film then moves on to show the consequences of those events. The CIA has to cover its ass and right there we have perhaps the film’s high point, when that clean-up happens, because it’s all downhill from there.
Writer-Director Tony Gilroy takes the excellent premise but goes with it in the wrong direction. A prime component of what made the Bourne films great was the realism. Both story and action felt completely plausible and the film making added to that realism. Much of Legacy throws that out the window, on all fronts. The added thread of genetic manipulation to enhance the operatives feels out-of-place in what was previously a very grounded universe, and you’re unable to ignore it as it serves as the primary driving force behind the narrative.
The ending is also severely lacking, not giving any real closure to the big picture nor the personal level of its protagonist. The latter is handled better than the former, but you’ll still leave the theater with the distinct taste of “we’re absolutely looking to make a sequel, please come back” in your mouth.
If all that sounds very negative then you can still reassure yourself that the film has redemptive qualities. The previously mentioned premise is good and the acting from the large cast is uniformly good to great.
Jeremy Renner is a fantastic screen-presence and handles himself admirably as an action lead. His character, Aaron Cross, is somewhat interesting, he’s a curious person and what snippets we get of his back story give some insight into his personality. He’s not just a rehash of Bourne, though he is as resourceful, and actually turns out to be somewhat of a unique action protagonist. Sadly, his characterization is put on the back-burner and his quest for chemicals is never as intriguing as Bourne’s journey for his identity. A fine performance from Renner either way, as he’s far and away the film’s strongest element.
Rachel Weisz is also good as Marta Shearing, a doctor with ties to Cross and his work. In some ways her character is better realized than Renner’s and they work well on-screen together. She goes through a lot of difficult stuff and Weisz makes you believe it.
Beyond that the script doesn’t really flesh out any of the ancillary characters and there are palpable problems with the pacing of the film. It’s over two hours long and takes half that to get the plot actually moving with any sort of urgency, and even after that it still feels as if it’s lumbering rather slowly towards where it’s going. This might be forgiven if it actually built narrative tension or if there was pay-off to the build up. Legacy has little of both.
The action is passable, it’s always fun to see Renner take out people like it’s nobody’s business but you never really get to enjoy that fully as almost all the hand-to-hand sequences are woefully incoherent. It may feel like a crutch to fall back on, but it simply isn’t as well done as its predecessors. The artistry of Greengrass’ camerawork is just missing. It also lacks the tension and excitement created in the other films. This is also due to some blatantly obvious use of CGI to enhance certain aspects of the action. It’s a shame, as it directly takes away from, rather than adding to the experience. Competent is the word for it. Outside of the action sequences the cinematography is very well executed, leaving you to wonder why they couldn’t make the action as good.
Final Verdict: The Bourne Legacy is a well acted and largely well made film, not bad by any stretch. But it could have been so much more and stands as far and away the weakest entry in the Bourne series. Still, it’s a film worth seeing, just know that you won’t necessarily leave completely satisfied. It’s done no favors that you know that during parts of it there’s actually a better movie happening, right around the corner.