To quote Douglas Adams, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.” That The Bourne Legacy looks like a Bourne, quacks like a Bourne (“We are morally indefensible and completely necessary”) and has Moby warbling over the end, the sequel/sidequel/parallelquel to The Bourne Ultimatum IS a new Jason Bourne film, even sans Jason Bourne himself. If you can get past this final fact you might have an enjoyable night out at the cinema.
When the death of a Guardian journalist (never a Daily Mail journalist is it?) triggers events that unveil a number of dirty American Intel secrets, a clean-up operation is ordered by retired Col. Eric Byer, a clean up operation that involves wiping out every Bourne like agent in the field. The mission is a success save the survival of one agent, Aaron Cross. As it dawns on Cross just how his p45 is being delivered he goes rogue, taking with him a scientist, Dr. Marta Shearing, with the potential to help him get clean of the addictive but deadly medication designed to make him a better killing machine.
It always seemed immensely unfair that the previous three Bourne films (Identity, Supremacy, Ultimatum) were so often sweepingly regarded as Paul Greengrass’s Bourne films. For starters Swingers and Go director Doug Liman did such a great job bringing the tale of the amnesiac agent to the big screen in the first place, avoiding falling into the traps of painful cliché or worse still, complete spy parody. Yet despite Greengrass not even being Jason’s first love, the OTT admiration for Greengrass extended so far as to have Matt Damon claiming, “I’ll never do another Bourne without Paul.” Fans of the series will be forever grateful he didn’t feel so strongly about Doug.
It’s also indicative of the way screenwriters are treated in Hollywood that you’d never hear an A-Lister lamenting the loss of the man who puts the words in their mouths. For if we’re giving ownership of the Bourne films to any one individual why not Tony Gilroy, the author of every Bourne script so far and the man behind both the script and camera for Legacy? Finally, as anyone who suffered a severe sense of déjà vu watching Safe House will be painfully aware, Oliver Wood, cinematographer for the first three, had a huge impact on the whole affair.
Fortunately for the reboot(?) Gilroy was savvy enough to understand the ‘look’ of Bourne is as important as the content, bringing in Good Night, and Good Luck and There Will Be Blood lenser Robert Elswit to give proceedings the required eye candy. For those who found the previous films a tad too twitchy in regards to camerawork, you’ll be pleased to learn, for the most part, the jitters have subsided.
There’s arguably a greater sense of maturity in Legacy too, with it’s labyrinthine (sometimes overly so) plot bouncing back and forth over timelines with similar frequency to the location hopping. One particularly harrowing scene, involving Rachel Weisz’s scientist being stalked by a gunman through her lab, is a perfect demonstration of the callous depths these fat, old, rich white men will go to in order to protect their investments. In many ways that was always the theme of the Bourne films; David taking on Goliath. And theme is something the writer knows better than anyone.
But for all its virtues, and there are many, the simple fact is in straight up comparison ‘junkie spy’ doesn’t trump ‘amnesiac spy’ in terms of compelling narrative. “Who am I?” is far more interesting to viewers than “Will he get clean?”. Jeremy Renner, exceptional in The Hurt Locker and underused ever since (The Avengers, Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol), does an admirable job with what he’s given, it’s just a shame Aaron Cross isn’t as easy to root for as the man playing him, hampered by a flaw that defines his character.
Narrative drive and light characterisation aside, once Aaron Cross does Motocross through the streets of Manila the idea of a Cross/Bourne crossover, in which Damon and Renner share a screen, becomes a highly wanted, if highly unlikely, notion.
Despite some assured work from Jeremy Renner and the safe hands of Bourne‘s real originator Tony Gilroy, Legacy can’t quite live up to what’s gone before. It’s still a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours yet for many it’ll have the ring of a perfectly pleasurable date but one in which you haven’t quite got over your ex.