Director: Tony Gilroy
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
Plot: Jason Bourne is revealed to be only the tip of the iceberg, as another operative finds himself on the run from his employers who wish to kill him.
Agent on the run. Check. Suits in Washington bickering about what to do. Check. Random woman joins said agent on the run. Check. Glamorous locations. Check. All the obligatory ingredients for a Bourne film are here, except on this occasion, neither star Matt Damon nor director Paul Greengrass are present. So, is this fourth instalment, which is essentially a spin-off from the original trilogy, a rip-roaring success or a damp squib?
Aaron Cross (Renner) aka Number Five, is a black ops agent working under a program named Operation Outcome, which provides its subjects with green pills to enhance their physical abilities and blue pills to maximise their mental agility. He is deployed to Alaska to train in the wilderness during which he pretends to lose his pills in order to obtain more. He meets a fellow operative called Number Three (Oscar Isaac), with whom he stays in a log cabin while a blizzard blows itself out before they can head back to the nearest town. Meanwhile, Jason Bourne exposes Operation Blackbriar and the Treadstone Project, which in turn leads to CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Blackbriar supervisor Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) coming under investigation by the FBI. Eric Byer (Norton) is called in to remedy the situation. Byer decides to eliminate all assets around the world, deploying a Predator drone to kill both Three and Five in their Alaskan cabin. Cross escapes in time and manages to shoot down the first drone and take out the tracking device in his leg, forcing an attacking wolf to swallow so that it would be his decoy and make Byer believe he had been killed.
Byer continues his operation and instructs that all of the other operatives have their green and blue pills replaced by deadly yellow ones that they unwittingly take. The team of scientists who carry out medicals on the assets and hand out the drugs are compromised when Byer abducts Dr. Donald Foite (Željko Ivanek), who is brainwashed into shooting his colleagues to make it look like a psychotic breakdown. One of those scientists, Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz), manages to survive while Foite commits suicide to evade being questioned. Shearing is later attacked in her home by CIA agents ordered to kill her, but is saved by Cross who persuades her to help him. Shearing reveals that Cross was genetically modified to retain the advantages of taking the green pills without taking them – a process known as ‘viralling off’. Cross and Shearing decide they must travel to Manila where the pills are manufactured, so that Cross can be ‘viralled off’ successfully. With Byer on their tail along with the Filipino operative, the battle for survival has only just begun.
The Bourne Legacy, as a stand-alone film is actually not bad, but it is severely hamstrung from the get-go, purely by the fact that it is supposed to be a continuation of the excellent final third of the original trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum. There are, in the first half an hour or so, frequent allusions to the events of the previous film, mainly through news reports about Jason Bourne and the subsequent investigations. This is an uncomfortable reminder that what we are watching just isn’t on the same par as Matt Damon’s best film to date. Even with the odd action scene that thrills, such as the highway chase in Manila, there is an inescapable shadow looming over everything from the decidedly unoriginal script to the wishy-washy feel of our main protagonist. What made the trilogy work extremely well, was a central character who instantly grabbed our attention – we wanted to know his back story and felt compelled to go along with him. In Legacy, the empathy is very limited, although the screenwriters have a tough act to follow, the end result is a haphazard attempt to cash in on the success of the Bourne box-office vehicle.
Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross is a character you will have seen countless times in other action films and is emphatically a pale imitation of Matt Damon’s Bourne. To be fair to Renner, he can only go through the motions as per the script, but there is something missing in his performance that made his predecessor such a success – this might have something to do with the lack of emotion, as we only get to see his ‘serious’ face and little else. Rachel Weisz is as gorgeous as ever, but even she can’t lift the gloom, only screaming in various scenes whenever a gun appears but at least she doesn’t undergo an unlikely Linda Hamilton-style transformation from wet blanket to soldier in a matter of minutes. Edward Norton takes on the mantle of sneering-CIA-suit-without-a-conscience, but his Byer is little more than Strathairn’s understudy – not quite as ruthless or quick-witted. Director Tony Gilroy tries and fails to ignite adrenaline into the vast majority of action scenes, although the Manila bike chase is the only real high point.
The Bourne Legacy has nowhere near the required amount of gusto and empathy required for us to invest heavily in the characters or the story. At times, there is a decidedly TV-style feel to the whole thing, as if it would have looked better serialised on a smaller screen. Despite all the hype, Legacy has done for the Bourne film series what Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did for Indiana Jones. If the trilogy ain’t broke, don’t bother making another one.