Given the commercial and critical success of The Bourne Trilogy, doing a relaunch of the series was a no-brainer. Whether the character of Jason Bourne could/would continue without Matt Damon was the big question. When The Bourne Legacy was announced, there were questions of whether the story would follow the plot of the novel. Starring Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, it bares no resemblance to the novel other than the title.
Renner does a nice job as Cross. He’s a believable trained assassin and action star thanks to his successful roles in The Hurt Locker, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and most recently, The Avengers. He’s methodical, smart, lethal, and very athletic—almost unnaturally so. The film’s plot runs parallel to The Bourne Ultimatum. The aftermath of Bourne’s actions in New York are causing collateral damage and Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is leading the clean-up efforts. He’s as secretive as possible and his government/spy lingo is just as elusive to the audience. Filled with acronyms, code words, and projects, without having seen the first three Bourne movies (particularly Ultimatum), you’re likely to be completely lost.
The clean-up efforts include eliminating the remaining operatives in the field, one of which is Cross. The story jumps between the spy overlords in Washington and Cross trying to find more of the medicine prescribed in his program. It’s here that we’re introduced to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Dr. Shearing and her team run the medical side of the program (although they’re not entirely clear as to what they’ve been doing). They work to create behavioral modification in the form of a pill, as well as to develop physical improvements on the genetic and neurological level for the operatives.
Through a series of violent events, Dr. Shearing and Cross’s paths meet. Promising to help Cross in his search for the medicine, their story advances while Byer works to eliminate both of them. There are some very exciting action scenes, including one of the longest chase scenes in recent memory, lasting over fifteen minutes. Director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity) also wrote the screenplay, as well as the previous three Bourne screenplays, so the language of the film is the same. Where the film suffers is the pacing and story structure. The continuous cutting between the Bourne clean-up in Washington and Cross’s early exploits slows down the pacing. The film feels disjointed at times and the events in Washington D.C. don’t feel as urgent and detrimental to the secrecy of the program as the characters would suggest.
The biggest flaw of the film is the lack of resolution to any of the story-lines. Gilroy must be under strict instructions from Universal to continue the Bourne series in a new trilogy. Everything is left open, ambiguous, or unanswered for the inevitable sequels. In the recent age of turning stories into film trilogies or more to increase profits (i.e. The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight), Universal and Gilroy have apparently created only one-third of a story. Without the sequels, The Bourne Legacy doesn’t feel like a complete film. Despite coherently-directed action sequences and a good script that is well-acted, it’s difficult for the film to stand on its own. Where as the first three Bourne films can all be viewed independently of each other, The Bourne Legacy is merely the first piece of a project that’s years away from completion.