Every so often, a few movies fall through the cracks of my cinematic world, unseen for whatever reasons (lack of time, other things to do, etc.), and it becomes a chore to try to get caught up on them as more and more takes priority over watching these films I missed the first time around. The Matt Damon-fronted BOURNE trilogy of films fall into such a category. I did watch THE BOURNE IDENTITY when it was first released, and damn if I remember much about it, other than Matt Damon’s sudden ability to beat some serious ass when necessary. I’ve been able to sneak a peek at the two films that rounded out Damon’s turn as Jason Bourne, but that’s been mostly limited to action sequences, which gave me a general idea of Paul Greengrass’ stylistic approach. Therefore, I’m hardly what you’d call a BOURNE fan or even a BOURNE watcher. Going into THE BOURNE LEGACY, I knew little of the grand scheme of Treadstone and Blackbriar, so, starting fresh, I was quite interested to see if I’d get lost entering the BOURNE franchise at this point as a new soul or if the next chapter would hold up as its own story.
For a series Matt Damon passed on continuing, there’s very little effort paid to establishing Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross as every five seconds the name of Jason Bourne is resurrected to remind you that somehow the two films are connected.
“Have you seen this file on Jason Bourne?”
“Jason Bourne was seen in New York City.”
“Jason Bourne escaped following a shootout.”
Well, you get the picture.
In fact, without those constant reminders that THE BOURNE IDENTITY, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM should serve as some type of foundation for LEGACY, the film would be an even bigger mess than it is, mostly because there is no real story here to tell, just an attempt to capitalize on the BOURNE name by giving you a side story that takes place around the same time as ULTIMATUM.
With Jason Bourne and all the information surrounding Blackbriar and Treadstone going public and nudging forward investigations into the dealings of the C.I.A., the higher-ups at the intelligence agency and within the government, led by Edward Norton, whose position is never really made clear, decide it’d be best to terminate all their other secret, black ops programs. That’ll stop the fallout at Blackbriar and Treadstone, and, once the heat calms down, they can restart some of these other programmable assassin set-ups later down the line. One such program is Operation Outcome, set to be burned to the ground by killing off all of its participants as well as the scientists who helped it thrive. Therefore, one by one, Outcome agents are knocked off by switching their chems to a more poisonous dosage, and, for the two out in the middle of nowhere, a drone attack on their location should do the trick… only it doesn’t, and Cross is able to get away alive. As for the scientists, Rachel Weisz’s Dr. Shearing manages to avoid execution, leaving two loose ends on the run from the government who is desperately trying to gun them down. The problem with this equation though is that it’s entirely one-sided. “The Man,” so to speak, is on a relentless chase to find Renner and Weisz, but there is no sort of repercussion from that duo against those after them. Renner and Weisz never take it upon themselves to seek revenge for the threats against their lives, or even to expose further to the public what’s going on. There’s no actual plan to their plan other than to keep running, hope to stay alive, and… well, that’s it. Maybe they’re hoping to just tire their pursuers out to the point that they’ll leave them alone. I don’t know, but it makes for a rather flat and unexciting story for your film when its heroes, the very people you should be rooting for, have nothing in sight – no thing, no place, no person – that you can hope for them to get to. The best THE BOURNE LEGACY offers up is the hope that they don’t die, but, even then, there’s no reason to ever invest in these shallow characters along the way for that hope to carry any sort of weight with it.
Aaron Cross really wants to track down his chems – a pair of blue and green pills that enable the physical and intellectual side of his assassin program to be maintained – to the point that he’ll ask anybody and everybody he encounters along the way, from a doctor to a street hot dog vendor if they’ve got any. I’m pretty sure he’d trade cheeseburgers or blowjobs for a couple of pills if anyone were holding along his journey. But, beyond that, there’s nothing to Aaron Cross, other than a few flashbacks that don’t really register in THE BOURNE LEGACY because they make no sense on their own. They may be part of bigger story to be revealed in subsequent films, but that’s just lazy filmmaking by writer-director Tony Gilroy. This is a clear case of franchise building and trying to tell only one chapter of the story in order to lure you back for the sequel to find out more of what happened. I’m all for weaving threads through multiple films that pay off with larger revelations down the road, but, when you’re purposefully cutting a bigger tale into smaller sections of that story in order to stretch it out as long as possible, that’s just not cool. What makes it even more unforgivable in the case of THE BOURNE LEGACY is I’m pretty sure all of those details could have been spelled out in this one film, because, for as long as the movie is, there’s long stretches where LEGACY is simply spinning its wheels, killing time to get to the end credits. Nothing of any substance is happening during these periods of time, and really, by the end of LEGACY, you’ll wonder what, if anything, really happened throughout the course of the entire film anyway.
For a spy action thriller, there’s no spying, very little action and nothing thrilling to THE BOURNE LEGACY. It takes about 45 minutes for the first action beat to even come out, and that’s not even counting Jeremy Renner’s battle with a wolf, which feels more like a pandering apology to those who felt cheated by the marketing of THE GREY than anything that truly belongs in a BOURNE movie. I can’t even say if Renner is good in this extension of the BOURNE world, because he’s not really given anything to do. All of the exposition comes from poor dialogue in the backrooms of the C.I.A.’s command center that tries to explain what’s happening, and, with that said, this might be the worst role I’ve seen Edward Norton take. For an actor that’s consistently strong in his performances, Norton sleepwalks through THE BOURNE LEGACY, as it feels his paycheck was cut just for him to show up on set and speak his lines, without any attention paid to him showing any type of emotion or frankly even giving a shit.
Back to Renner though, he’s quite capable in the few action sequences he’s called upon to get involved in, and I would have liked to see more from Renner in this regard. But Cross is set up as more of a pacifist, only fighting those who attack him or endanger him first, so the displays of his killer instinct are few and far between. That also comes from a great deal of the movie being spent with the C.I.A. trying to find Cross, not actually finding him with any degree of success.
By the time LEGACY brings in a LARX beta program assassin, who is described as “Treadstone without the inconsistency,” and heads towards its ridiculously long foot/motorcycle chase climax that may have sounded cool in concept but comes across as soulless and boring on-screen, there’s no saving THE BOURNE LEGACY… not that those moments could have done so either, as they present themselves as ridiculously cliché and rather anti-climactic.
Without the previous three BOURNE films, THE BOURNE LEGACY would have been impossible to make, and, even with them, it’s a movie they shouldn’t have bothered going ahead with. There’s not nearly enough character and certainly not enough story for this to even exist, and definitely doesn’t add anything to the legacy of Bourne films. I think I’ll just invest my time in catching up on the Damon portions of BOURNE. They’ve got to be better than this boring entry, right?
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
Follow me on Twitter.