Of all the movies coming out this summer, I think I was awaiting The Bourne Legacy more eagerly than any other. I loved The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises (saw them both twice and could easily go again to each), but the Bourne films hold a special place in my heart as the most surprising trilogy of action films I've ever seen. I dearly love those three movies and can watch them again and again, and in fact, did so just a few weeks back.
And maybe that's why I found The Bourne Legacy so disappointing. I'll say it here: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen the film and want to, stop reading now.
The movie plunges right in, literally, beginning with Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross submerged in an icy river in Alaska, extending the water motif from the previous films. From there an extended scene launches that keeps Cross in Alaska for about the first 20 minutes of the film (maybe longer), visiting a fellow Outcome agent. What's Outcome? Well, it seems that with the shutdown of Treadstone and Black Briar, another black ops super-agent program has been running simultaneously. In fact, more than one (there's also something called Larkx...more on that later). But Outcome is different in that the people running it are medically tweaking the agents, making them more super, kind of like a Captain America thing with real-world science and medicine. And that, sadly, is where The Bourne Legacy gets hopelessly bogged down. While the common plot-thread of the CIA rushing to shut down these programs for damage control after Pamela Landy brings Black Briar and Treadstone into the public eye in The Bourne Ultimatium is part of the storyline here, the story of "saving" Aaron Cross from the science of Outcome takes center stage, and that's the weaker of the two.
I love the first three Bourne films because Matt Damon played a quiet, stoic, unassuming character who could suddenly burst into shockingly violent action. And the directors--Doug Liman on the first film (Identity), and Paul Greengrass on the second and third (Supremacy and Ultimatum)--took full advantage of that dichotomy of having earnest nice-guy Damon--who I pretty much dislike in everything else he's in--play Jason Bourne. We learned Bourne's story as HE learned it, his memory wiped by trauma. In Legacy, we know from the beginning that Aaron Cross is some kind of super-agent. He swims in ice-cold waters. He climbs snowy mountains and jumps over wide chasms. He fights off wolves. The details are almost all there, and it's revealed early on that he is the way he is because of a virus and medication that boosts him to super-human levels. He's not Superman, but he's better, stronger, and smarter than all of us. And that's where the film gets too talky and explanatory. We didn't need to know HOW Jason Bourne did the things he did; we needed to find his identity, his back-story. We're not really given that opportunity here. Instead, we're given a science lesson.
One plot point that Legacy has that I find appealing is that it runs in the same time frame as the last Damon movie, The Bourne Ultimatum. We see characters and events from that film interacting with this film, and some of the CIA personnel cross over, such as Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), and CIA director Ezra Cramer (Scott Glenn). Sadly, they're not in the film long enough to make much of an impact. You do, however, get a hint that Landy has been demonized by the CIA and Vosen and Cramer are still in power, answering to a higher-up, Retired Admiral Mark Turso, played by Stacy Keach. And Legacy also introduces a new baddie in Retired Colonel Eric Byer, played by the always great Edward Norton. He's the mastermind behind both Outcome and Larkx and realizes he has to shut both down and cut off all the loose threads.
Legacy quickly becomes a chase film, as Cross and one of the doctors who worked on him (Dr. Marta Shearing, played by Rachel Weisz) jet off to the Philippines to infect him with the virus that will make his mental superiority permanent. Seems Aaron was recruited as a Marine with a sub-standard IQ (his recruiting officer added 20 points to it to make his quota of recruits), and when he "died" during a mission in Iraq in 2003, the CIA made him an offer he couldn't refuse. And there it is: the three-film quest of Jason Bourne for his identity all told in one film. We know all we need to know about Aaron Cross. While in Manila, there is the inevitable Bourne film chase through a major city, this time on motorcycles. And when it comes time to kill the Larkx-powered super-villain, it's not even Aaron Cross who does it. Writer/director Tony Gilroy--who wrote or co-wrote the previous three films, along with the excellent Michael Clayton (which he also directed)--should know better than robbing us of that distinct pleasure.
And that's another major problem I have with Legacy: It's lack of action scenes, at least compared to the previous three movies. There are maybe three action scenes in this where Renner kicks ass ala Bourne/Damon, and only two of them are major scenes (in Dr. Shearing's home and the Manila chase scene). For an action film, it's surprisingly low on action. Renner is fine as Cross, but his more outgoing demeanor makes him less appealing--to me, at least--than Damon's stoicism and introverted intensity.
While I'm sure there will be an inevitable sequel (The Bourne Sanction, Objective, Dominion, Imperative...take your pick, there's plenty more titles to choose from), they're going to have to go a long way to convince me this is a viable continuence of the series. Maybe bringing Jason Bourne off the computer monitor screen and back into the fold (to save Pam Landy?) will do that.