/ the bourne legacy
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While Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) wreaks havoc in Manhattan, the sinister Powers That Be go into damage control, ordering the liquidation of its remaining agents engineered as part of their Black Ops paramilitary initiatives, “Treadstone” and “Outcome”. One such agent is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who escapes the drones sent to kill him, and begins a quest for truth along with “Outcome” scientist, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), herself marked for liquidation…
The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment in the series based on the novels of espionage luminary, Robert Ludlum, and canonically follows on from the Damon-helmed Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum. The previous series, unrelated to Legacy in its central character but linked through its world and events, is one of the few examples of a trilogy benefiting from a case of increasing returns. Each film successfully built upon the foundations of the last, culminating in the triumphant Ultimatum – not only an explosively fitting conclusion to a rich, satisfying cinematic narrative, but quite frankly the definitive espionage-action film for the post-Bond age.
Legacy is set parallel to Ultimatum, beginning with the assassination of Simon Ross (Bourne’s journalist contact in the Guardian) and the potential exposure of Operation “Treadstone”. From this event, we follow the CIA’s extreme reaction (a kind of “extraordinary rendition” on its own agents), and how it affects another protagonist, one not so far removed – in terms of journey and circumstance – from Jason himself. Having Cross’ situation directly derive from Bourne’s actions in “Ultimatum” is a nifty device, throwing the events of that film into dubious question. Bourne’s quest to expose the truth comes at a steeper price than previously shown in Ultimatum, and although absent from the film, he is, quite literally, responsible for the fight-and-flight scenario Cross finds himself unwittingly thrown into.
While a number of familiar faces from the Damon films pop up (Joan Allen and David Strathairn among them, in cameo roles or stock footage from the previous outings), the action is centred around fresh faces. Renner, as Cross, makes for an engaging leading man, a fast-talking and sardonic hero similar to Bourne in skill but differentiated by a strong personality. Weisz, as the doctor thrust into a life-or-death battle beyond her pay-grade, is given little more to do besides running and shouting, but she elevates her slim options and is always eminently watchable. Edward Norton appears as Eric Byer, the agent tasked with bringing Cross to ground, and he uses his pale, sickly demeanour to bring a reptilian quality to the echelons of CIA bureaucracy.
The powerful cast is wasted, however, on Tony Gilroy’s expository script (he co-wrote the previous trilogy), which is too slow in beginning, limp in its momentum, and can’t escape becoming a rehash of plot-points and events from The Bourne Identity. It’s bad enough when films steal ideas from other films – worse still to steal them from your own franchise. (The film’s major set-piece, a parkour chase across the rooftops, is lifted straight from the last Bourne outing). Gilroy also directs, somehow, and he does so with the poor clarity of a film-school student, displaying none of the control he exerted in Michael Clayton, moving his camera with little purpose or skill for visual storytelling. While Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films won accolades for their editing (including an Oscar for Ultimatum), you’ll struggle at times to make sense of Legacy’s action scenes, despite their infrequency. Worse still, the film is missing its entire third act; rarely has there been a more abrupt, narratively unsatisfying end to a film, not only of this kind, but ever.
While The Bourne Identity sprung a coherent, organic trilogy from a simple spy-story told strongly and with purpose, the mechanics for future instalments behind Legacy are both its greatest strength and most visible weakness. It demonstrates capably that the world of Bourne is rich enough to exist without its eponymous hero, but not, crucially, without the talent behind the camera.