The Bourne Legacy was always going to suffer from comparisons with the original trilogy, but to a large extent it stands up to Paul Greengrass’ film series, adeptly maintaining the balance between the high-octane action and intelligent drama that made the first Bourne movies a hit.
The plot will feel familiar to fans of the original Bourne series: Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an agent who is part of Operation Outcome (a revised version of Jason Bourne’s program Treadstone), must outrun and outfight the power of a shady government agency that seeks to take him down. The government program itself is set to self-destruct after a bureaucratic foul-up when a clip of two men, who lead the program and are officially not meant to know each other, are seen together. The decision is then made to attempt to eliminate all the agents in the program, including Cross. One slight niggle is how miraculous it is that a group of supposedly highly intelligent and skilled agents can be killed so easily, with only one agent managing to survive. But this really shouldn’t stand in the way of your enjoyment of the film. It could be argued that the agency’s Orwellian degree of control over agents could explain the ease with which they are killed, and this theme of a fight for identity, against the brainwashing manipulation of the program, is something that Gilroy continues from where Greengrass left off.
Renner puts in a strong performance here, managing to mix a sense of predatorial flintiness with a vulnerability that makes him likeable and relatable. Rachel Weisz plays Dr. Marta Shearing, a scientist, who has helped develop the science behind the genetic modification of the agents, but like Cross, becomes a target after the destruction of the program. It’s not the most challenging role she has ever played, but Weisz does what is needed and rises above simply being a damsel in distress.
The action scenes are terrific; well choreographed and thrilling to watch, even if they will give fans of the originals a sense of déjà vu (an amoral agent is let loose to catch Cross, chasing him across the rooftops of the city – sound familiar?).
If this franchise reboot is to develop its own identity it will need to step out of the shadows of Jason Bourne, as some may find that Bourne’s ‘Legacy’, weighs too heavily on the previous film’s shoulders, and the use of a familiar soundtrack at the end of the film doesn’t make this feeling any easier to shake off. At one point, Cross looks up wistfully at an engraving of Jason Bourne’s name etched on the ceiling above him, this imagery acutely illustrating the feeling that Greengrass and Matt Damon’s Bourne are difficult shoes for Gilroy and Renner to fill. Whilst it makes sense to put Aaron Cross’s story in context to the originals, the references to Bourne can make it hard to embrace the franchise reboot as refreshing and necessary, instead drawing attention to what is missing from the reboot. The exploration of the ethics of manipulation starts the film promisingly, as does the political intrigue in the prospect of agents all over the world, embedded in Afghanistan and Pakistan amongst other hostile destinations. However, The Bourne Legacy lacks anything comparable to the strong narrative arc of the original series, and as the film reaches its climax it loses steam and the promising ideas of its opening fall flat.
On the other hand, The Bourne Legacy is still an exciting, well-made and intelligent action thriller. Whilst it has its flaws, lacking the brilliance of Identity or Supremacy it still ranks well above many Hollywood made action films, in terms of both the quality of the acting and the ingenuity of its action scenes. There will undoubtedly be sequels to follow this film, and if Gilroy and Renner are given the freedom to put their own mark on the series, the continuation of the franchise will remain an exciting prospect.