Some consider “The Bourne Legacy” to be a cinematic cheat, nothing more than a greedy attempt by Universal Pictures to continue a hugely successful franchise without its main stars (Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass). Truth be told however, Universal has done a good job making it clear to audiences that this new chapter is not out to replace the character of Jason Bourne or have an actor other than Damon playing him. Even though it doesn’t break any new ground in the franchise and threatens to pale in comparison the trilogy of films which preceded it, “The Bourne Legacy” proves to be an exciting action flick that finds its own rhythm and goes with it.
Describing this movie is a little complicated as it cannot easily be called a sequel or a prequel. This one is really more of a parallel story or a “parallel-quel” if you will. Like “Paranormal Activity 2,” it surrounds the events of the movie which came before it (in this case “The Bourne Ultimatum“). With Jason Bourne systematically taking apart Operation Blackbriar, “Legacy” looks to pull back the curtain to reveal that there were several other secret government programs which trained American soldiers to do their dirty work. The program focused on here is Operation Outcome which has employed Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent who’s not suffering from amnesia but knows that he can be as easily expendable as Bourne.
In differentiating Aaron Cross as a character, it is shown to us that Outcome agents are more like mice in a science lab as they are given certain kinds of medication which help to give them increased mental and physical abilities. There are no red or blue pills like there was in “The Matrix,” but instead green and blue ones which Aaron needs to function. If he misses a dose or doesn’t have access to a refill (which won’t be available to him at the local drug store), he will end up going into serious withdrawal and could die. Anyone who has had experience with certain medications, be it anti-depressants or otherwise, can certainly understand how bad the withdrawal part can get.
When the situation with Jason Bourne gets as explosive as it did in the last film, retired Air Force Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is brought in to contain the situation and decides that the agents in programs like Outcome need to be eliminated for the government’s own protection. So despite the agents allegiance to their countries, they are stabbed in the back and assassinated in the coldest way possible. So that’s what it’s like to work at NBC!
Cross himself narrowly escapes an assassination attempt and ends up going on the run to escape detection and to find some more of those pills before he experiences serious withdrawal. This has him traversing through the Alaskan wilderness while being chased by wolves (lovers of those creatures are not going to be happy with this movie) and going all the way to the Philippines to get his pills. Don’t worry though because neither Cross or the filmmakers are trying to make any sort of comment on the high prices of American health care.
Joining him in his exploits is Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), one of the doctors who helped Aaron achieve such amazing abilities through the wonders of medicine. So as a result, the setup does have a ring familiarity about it as Marta, like Franka Potente’s character of Marie from “The Bourne Identity,” sees her life get turned upside down and is forced to go on the run with Aaron. But whereas Marie was an individual who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, Marta does have a stronger purpose as she is needed to keep Aaron from suffering without his medication.
Now I could spend a lot of time comparing “The Bourne Legacy” with the trilogy which came before it, but I’d rather not if I can help it. Those three movies set a new standard for action movies which is extremely hard to top, and that makes certain comparisons somewhat unfair. Paul Greengrass at one time joked that doing another Jason Bourne movie might as well have him calling it “The Bourne Redundancy,” and that could easily have been the case here. Indeed, the setup is the same with two characters on the run from a government that has betrayed them, but Gilroy does ground this story in a reality that wasn’t as present in the previous movies.
Tony Gilroy has already made himself well known as one of the main architects of the Jason Bourne movies with his involvement in writing the screenplays for them, but his talents as a director were established before that with “Michael Clayton” which was one of the best movies of 2007.
Gilroy does solid work in making this particular Bourne movie stand out in a different way from the rest of the franchise, and (for those who had issue with Greengrass’ camerawork) he doesn’t have the camera shaking all over the place quite as much. Even if the lack of shaky camerawork does somewhat impact the excitement we have while watching these action sequences, they still prove to be more riveting than most other action movies have had to offer in 2012 thus far. There’s one big crash towards the end (you’ll know it when happens) which had me saying to myself “oh man that’s got to hurt!” Keep in mind that is not a term I use regularly when watching an action movie.
So who’s the better actor in the Bourne franchise, Damon or Renner? At this point I don’t feel like figuring that one out. The important thing is that Renner creates an intriguing enough character in Aaron Cross that makes us want to follow him some more in the future. Renner has long since acquitted himself as an actor in movies like “The Hurt Locker,” “The Town” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” and with “The Bourne Legacy” he gets a lead role in a motion picture which is worthy of his talents.
And while her character yells a little more than I would care for her to, Weisz is Renner’s equal in one scene to the next as she is thrown into a situation which changes her life permanently. Weisz is a powerful actress to say the least, and she keeps us hanging on during the movie’s more intense sequences.
Edward Norton looks to be knocked down from his status as a lead actor in movies here, but he creates a down to earth nemesis with his character of Eric Byer. While Norton is not always known as one of the easiest actors to deal with in Hollywood, we know that with him he will give a multi-dimensional portrait of each character he ends up playing. Eric is not a man driven to do evil, but one whose patriotism to his country forces him to do extreme things in order to protect it. Nevertheless, Eric is a man who deserves whatever fate is bound to come his way.
You also have to acknowledge actors like Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, Zeljko Ivanek and Stacy Keach who took their small roles and made them into compelling characters regardless of how short their screen time is. Other actors who show to reprise their roles (however briefly) are David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and Joan Allen who once again proves with a single line that her character of Deputy Director Pamela Landy is not a person to be messed with.
I do have to say that I kind of missed John Powell’s brilliant music from the past three movies, and the scoring duties this time are left to Gilroy’s frequent composer James Newton Howard. Powell created adrenaline pumping music for the previous three movies that fused orchestral and electronic elements together to thrilling effect. Having said that, Howard is an excellent composer in his own right, and he does give the movie the kinetic score it deserves.
So it looks like the Bourne movie franchise just might survive without Damon and Greengrass (at least for now). With “The Bourne Legacy,” Tony Gilroy gives us a new chapter with a story that which in some ways is more realistic than the ones which came before it. This may take fans for a bit of a loop depending on what they expect, but it still manages to deliver the goods all the same.
Still, it would have been nice for Aaron Cross to have his own theme song at the movie’s end. Moby’s “Extreme Ways” is really Jason Bourne’s theme, and it would have helped to set this chapter of the series apart some more. How about “Renegade” by Styx?
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