Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Estimated Budget: $125 million
US Gross: $113 million
“There was never just one”, the advertising proudly proclaimed, but should there have been? What did The Bourne Legacy bring to the table after the franchise had the Matt pulled from under it. In choosing to continue the Bourne story without Damon, writer/director Tony Gilroy had an impeccably high bar to reach – anything less than the trilogy that came before it would have been considered a failure, and the attempt to continue without the leading man would be seen as a cynical cash grab. We’ve got Legacy in our sights, so how did it fare?
Climb ev’ry mountain
Our introduction to Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross comes high on an Alaskan mountain. Far from his Hawkeye persona in The Avengers, here Renner looks like Wolverine. The set-up not only portrays that Cross is an impressive agent physically – easily beating the record for time taken to cross the mountain – and mentally. When the actual and metaphorical big bad wolves come out to get him, Cross resorts to a small act of Bourne-style self-surgery to remove a tracker, insert it into a wolf, and thus misdirect a drone-launched missile. It’s a smart move and as a scene it plays strong, with the added pleasure of including Oscar Isaac in a small role. Oscar Isaac immediately improves anything.
Clinical trial/Home invasion
The plot, for what it is, takes a lurching twist when a seemingly gentle lab technician (played by Zeljko Ivanek) goes on the rampage and kills his colleagues, bar Rachel Weisz’s. It’s a cold, cruel and clinical massacre, inducing tension and chills alike. It’s later revealed to Weisz that his behaviours was programmed by the same shadowy Government agents who employ the laboratory. This is a Bond-villain disclosure, given that it comes as yet more agents are attempting to force Weisz into a faked suicide at her home. Time for another tense shootout, as Cross uses his full Bourne-arsenal to use furniture and converted fire extinguishers to reduce the damsel in distress. As a twinned scene, this pair shows that Gilroy is actually able to create tension both from little movement (in the lab) or frenetic fighting and running (in the home).
Legacy returns not-Bourne to the source material’s roots – the Far East. Not to the sweaty jungle, but the teeming metropolis of Manila where the US Government has, of course, outsourced the production of their top secret weaponised medication. South East Asia a great location for Legacy, or any film of its ilk – it’s busy, unknown, dangerous. This setting lays the stage for claustrophobic action in narrow alleys, a side-by-side rooftop escape and street level chase, and a decent freeway chase alongside packed, ramshackle buses and teeming with motorbikes.
Legacy could have gone two ways. Either it would try to establish dominance in the same world as the Bourne trilogy, or it would ape the predecessors at every turn and retcon the storyline willy-nilly. The outcome was, of course, the latter. The same sounds, the same shaky-cam visuals, the same fight-style and the same motifs. Throughout the film viewers could claim they are actually watching scenes from The Bourne Ultimatum. Carefully edited to not show Matt Damon, in an attempt to add relevance and synchronicity, but with no attempt to actually tie the stories together in any meaningful way beyond this it falls flat. The dumbest detail: Bourne’s name carved into a bunk bed like Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption. Bourne was here. Hmm.
Cretins. Idiots. Always.
For Bourne, Cross and company to truly be super-soldiers, they need a worthy adversary to prove themselves against for the viewer’s admiration. Edward Norton leads the federal-medley this time, backed up by the likes of Corey Stoll, Michael Chernus, Stacy Keach and Dennis Boutsikaris. So how do they do? Badly. In fact, awfully. With them, the Government is always three steps behind – they only work out Cross is alive 95 minutes into the film, after repeated obvious opportunities. The group’s activity, who in keeping with the series never really interact with Cross, is building up towards a “Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne” moment which is thankfully avoided.
The Bourne Dependency
How did Jason Bourne become who he is? Well, if Legacy is still cannon it’s not a natural predilection to being awesome, or years of gruelling special forces training and field-testing. Nope, the world’s favourite amnesiac (sorry Dory) was more highly doped than a Russian Olympic team. Greens for strength, blues for memory, and the red pill to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. It’s Cross’s continued addiction to these pills which drives the whole film forward – if he had a reliable supply to keep him going, Cross wouldn’t have lifted a finger. He frequently comes across as a junkie desperate for his next fix, even before he had any difficulty getting the drugs – one of his first acts is to hide his pills and lie to get some more. What a hero.
‘Dammit Jim, I’m a scientist not a spy’
“To retrofit our new character into this franchise, and to make the story edgy and relevant, we’re going to have to pseudoscience the shit out of this.” So went the first meeting for story ideas, probably. And where there is cod-biology, questionable ethics, and a general deferral to anyone in a white coat, we need a scientist. Enter Rachel Weisz. Notice she’s only been referred to as Weisz in the article so far – that’s because Dr. Marta Shearing makes so little impact beyond her professed love for science that her name doesn’t register. Ironically, Cross was surprised that after thirteen meetings in four years she doesn’t know his name either, thinking of him only as Number Five. She’s in it for the science, and don’t we know how much she has sacrificed for this, denied a life of publishing and conferences, all in the name of mighty science. Best line of the whole film: “I know my job, which is science.”
Never go full retard
Why are the “chems” so important to Cross? Why does he need to stay enhanced when the drugs run out, where one could reasonable expect a regression to a natural state? Aware that this could be a glaring plot-hole, the Gilroys decided to double-down rather than quit the whole medication mess. Aaron Cross has a long way to fall – he had to have 12 IQ points added to his test in order to join the infantry. Given that this isn’t a thing (no IQ test, and the equivalent used isn’t a determining factor in joining), this is an interesting detail to add. Cross starts to lose his mental capacity towards the climax, and we are treated to flashbacks of Renner in what looks like a bottle-protector hat acting the fool. The impact doesn’t give the impacful impression that Cross was ”going to run out of brain”, just that the writers already had.
Star Rating: 2/5
Kane Rating: 3/5
So, that was The Bourne Legacy. If we were being kind we’d call it The Cross Continuation, but it doesn’t deserve that any more than it deserves the Bourne name. How about The Cross Confusion? You know it’s not great when you spend more time after the film thinking about how a future Matt Damon sequel could recognise this travesty and salvage the series than about the film itself. If you want to know, by the way, I’d have to kill you.