Bourne Legacy Review

poster from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Bourne Legacy ever since I heard they were making a Bourne movie without Matt Damon, because while I like the superawesome mystery spy action of the Bourne movies, Matt Damon has all the emotional depth of a block of wood. I felt that Jeremy Renner, who was amazing in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Hurt Locker, would automatically make it better regardless of the movie’s plot.

A biologically enhanced super agent and the scientist who helped create him go on the run when the government decides to terminate their program with deadly force.

I expected to love The Bourne Legacy, but I didn’t quite get there. The plot was weak and we still haven’t managed to escape from the Paul Greengrass shaky cam legacy. I suspect most people who do like Matt Damon would say Legacy is the weakest of the series, but I still like it best.

The reason I like Legacy is that Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is a completely different type of person from Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Cross is still himself, still has his memories and his old hang-ups, including a level of curiosity that makes his superiors in the “Outcome” program uncomfortable. He also had a really good reason for volunteering as a supersoldier guinea pig, unlike the gormless and formerly soulless Bourne.

Aaron Cross under attack from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Ow! Jesus! It was just a question! “Can I have another cookie?” That’s all I said!

Cross’ partner, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) also has a vital role in the story instead of being some useless civilian hanger-on like Bourne’s girlfriends. As the scientist who helped turn Cross into what he is, he needs her. She needs him as well, as everyone in the world seems to be trying to kill her. She fends for herself rather well, but not against legions of maniacal supercommandos.

Rachel Weisz hides from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Oh Jesus, oh God, maybe I shouldn’t have made them quite so fast…

The reason their heads are on the chopping block is rather thinly connected to the other Bourne films – Jason Bourne telling everyone about being a supersoldier and trying to get revenge on the CIA has prompted other agencies (this one made up) to call in Eric Beyer (Edward Norton) to aggressively terminate their own enhancement programs so there’s no evidence to find when the senate hearing rolls around.

Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton face off from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

So be a nice boy and lay down and die, okay?

As a plot device, the “government turns on highly trained supersoldier spy” thing has been done (in half of the spy films and video games ever made) but it works. The movie is a series of increasingly frantic chase scenes, some of which are awesome.

Aaron Cross jumps off a building from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

I just love it when they run/jump around on rooftops parkour style

Others, like the motorcycle chase featured in the trailer, are annoyingly reminiscent of the earlier Bourne films in that they’re filmed on handhelds, shot in close up, and cut by editors on amphetamines so that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on. It’s supposed to feel frenetic, but it just makes the film look cheap – like they didn’t have enough money to get a wide shot of a motorcycle going down a railing so they had to fake it.

motorcycle chase from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Dear Tony Gilroy: this is a wide shot. Film more of them in Legacy 2.

Thankfully there are occasional breathers between chases which give Aaron and Marta time to get cozy and break their previous “you are doing medical experiments on me” relationship.

Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner get close from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Awww! Now kiss him!

The breather scenes also give Edward Norton time to jabber on about Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Blackbriar, which will make no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen The Bourne Ultimatum.

Edward Norton as Eric Beyer from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Blah blah scientist blah blah hearing blah blah Treadstone blah

However, Legacy’s biggest problem is story structure, which I suspect is a result of it not being based on any of the actual Bourne novels. One long chase movie is fine, but chase movies (like all action movies) need a definite ending. The reason for the action must be removed, but Legacy ends on what seems like just another pause in the action where the audience can catch its breath (for two years while they make the sequel, probably)

Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross from the Universal Pictures film The Bourne Legacy

Five minute break, okay? I need to pee.

The large number of dangling, uninvestigated plot questions also contributes to the sense that Legacy doesn’t end so much as stop halfway through, which can be really annoying if you’re the type of person (like me!) who expects “first” movies (this is a new trilogy) to be able to stand on their own. However, I liked the rest of it enough that I can get over it, so I’ll tell you to go and see it. Here’s hoping that the DVD will feature some deleted scenes that can make it feel more complete.

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