It’s interesting to note that the further we go into the Jason Bourne movie series the further and further we get from writer Robert Ludlum‘s original creation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as the movies have been entertaining, but although there’s certainly a lot to like about the latest entry into the franchise that swaps Jeremy Renner for Matt Damon, it’s no doubt the weakest movie delivered so far.
The Bourne Legacy spend an awfully long time (most of the film’s first half-hour) trying to make the film’s events fit into the storylines of the second and third Bourne films. That means we start out when a surprising amount of exposition and a barrage of quick cuts (seriously, at times this movie feels like it was edited by George Lucas on speed). The result is far from as seamless as I’d like. This also means we have to wait quite a long time to see Renner in action (unless you count the clips where he’s channeling Liam Neeson‘s character from The Grey).
We begin at the end of The Bourne Supremacy as steps are being taken to dismantle and bury Treadstone and Blackbriar. Leading the team here is Edward Norton who decides he has to burn the subsequent versions of the program to the ground when Jason Bourne (Damon) resurfaces in New York City (during The Bourne Ultimatum). This means killing off all the active Outcome operatives and scientists with knowledge of the operation.
Things go wrong pretty much from the start when both Aaron Cross (Renner) and scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) survive attempts on their lives that leave all their colleagues dead. After faking his death, Cross makes his way to Marta just in time to save her from another assassination attempt and go on the run.
The latest film in the franchise feels quite a bit like the first as the storyline very much mirrors the events of The Bourne Identity. In the first film we had a story about an unusually skilled operative searching for who he was with help of a European brunette (Franka Potente). This time around we get an unusually skilled operative searching for a way to remain the man he is with the help of a beautiful European brunette (Weisz).
The biggest change this time around, other than the focus being on Cross rather than Bourne (although Damon should get a check for the number of times his character is referred to over the movie’s 135-minute running time), is the shift to change the operatives from perfectly trained soldiers into super-soldiers whose minds, reflexes, and abilities have been augmented through a virus and controlled drug supplements. I understand the studio’s wish to cash-in on super-hero movies as well as offer an explanation why Cross can be just as dangerous as Jason Bourne, but it’s a pretty big change to accept four movies into an existing franchise.
This is also the first movie of the series not to be produced by Doug Liman (who also directed The Bourne Identity) and his steady hand and influence are definitely missing here as the film, at least for most of its first hour, isn’t as cohesive and doesn’t flow as well as the previous Bourne flicks. Once Cross is attacked and he goes on the run with Shearing things pick up considerably, but there are still several awkward cutaways including a cameo by Joan Allen whose sole purpose seems to be nothing more than teasing the next movie in the series.
Once we do get them, the action sequences work well (although none really stand out against what we’ve seen so far in the series). Even with Tony Gilroy replacing Paul Greengrass as director The Bourne Legacy still falls back at times on too many up-close, quick-cut, shaky-cam fights for my taste which blur and muddy the events taking place on-screen rather than showcasing the action.
Not everything works and fans of the series might feel slightly disappointed with the final product, at least compared to the rest of the franchise, but The Bourne Legacy still delivers some impressive action sequences and Renner proves capable of carrying the franchise in a new direction. For the fourth film in a franchise, one rebooting itself with a new leading man, that’s not too shabby.