Tony Gilroy (director)
Universal Pictures UK (studio)
135 mins (length)
03 December 2012 (released)
25 November 2012
The Jason Bourne trilogy, directed by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, was one of those rare trilogies that got better with each installment, and with subsequent viewings, culminating in a perfect wrap-up. The three films analysed the modern state of espionage very effectively, touching on themes of the nature of identity, collateral damage, accountability and how to kill a man using a pen. They’re even pointed at as the inspiration for how the Bond franchise was rebooted with Casino Royale.
The Bourne Ultimatum wrapped the trilogy up so well, with such a great last image that resounded thematically and quite literally mirroring the first image of the trilogy, the question that was probably not on the minds of people watching the end credits was “what next?”
Tony Gilroy thought otherwise. Gilroy is a talented writer and director, who wrote the screenplays for the previous Bourne films, though somewhat controversially clashed with director Greengrass on particulars. Now he gets his own shot at tackling the franchise the way he wanted, so though I was ambivalent about a fourth Bourne film, I still had hope. Gilroy in turn took my hope and stabbed it in the neck with a pen before throwing it out a window.
So now we have The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner. At some point in 2008, director Kathryn Bigelow made a call to a nefarious group of elite puppeteers and said “it’s time for Renner to be famous“ and so the elite group complied and decided to throw him at three major franchises, despite his lack of star power. From Mission Impossible to The Avengers, and now Bourne, his sudden exposure runs the risk of grating an audience that may not be so accepting.
Fortunately, in the role of assassin Aaron Cross, Renner is not required to emote much. Aaron is a man who was groomed parallel but unbeknownst to Jason Bourne under a different black-ops division. The Bourne Legacy begins a little before the climax of The Bourne Ultimatum, and as Jason’s actions cause fallout, Aaron’s existence becomes a threat to the remaining conspirators of the super secret black-ops division, headed by a bored Edward Norton.
The film takes an age to get to the incident that sets Cross on the run, however entertaining it is in its use of missile-shooting drones and wolf wrestling. The film does nothing new with the franchise, other than elaborate more on the behavioral engineering used to make assassins stronger and more compliant to orders, threatening to push the Bourne series into murky sci-fi waters. It is still essentially an “I’ve outlived my usefulness and now must go on the run with the ever-cute Rachel Weisz” kind of story.
The Bourne Legacy thankfully avoids repeating memory loss as a plot point, but rather than fully explore Aaron’s conscious complicity in morally questionable state-sanctioned killings, his motivation doesn’t extend beyond his hunt for pills that he’s addicted to, and we never see any interesting side effects of withdrawal. The film remains a generic chase thriller that features incomprehensibly the most mediocre third act chase sequence I’ve ever seen in a major action film, totally cribbing aspects from the last two films. The Bourne Legacy drags on and on with nothing too memorable occurring on screen, other than a pretty horrific mass shooting in a lab mid-way through.
Gilroy had his chance to do something new in the world of Bourne, but chose to basically remake The Bourne Identity, and instead of awesome music by John Powell we get inferior music by James Newton Howard.
The only way to salvage this continuation of the Bourne series is to invite Matt Damon back into the fold in some way, either working in tandem with Renner or against him.