After a solid start the Bourne franchise has grown with each instalment, culminating in The Bourne Ultimatum, the epitome of sleek spy action film. The increasing success both commercially and critically can largely be placed at the feet of director Paul Greengrass, who stepped in for the last two films. His obvious chemistry with the character of Jason Bourne, played wonderfully by Matt Damon as the vulnerable-yet-deadly, amnesia-suffering super-spy helped to create cinematic gold. It is a shame then that neither agreed to come back for the fourth film, The Bourne Legacy.
Set in a period of time that runs concurrently with the start of The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy focuses at first on shady higher-up in ‘The Program’ Retired Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) as he realises the potential hazard of having his secrets revealed to the general public. These secrets concern, to name but one, Operation: Outcome, the next step in human genome manipulation that started with Operation: Treadstone, which itself produced Jason Bourne (Damon). When the decision is made to terminate the projects, all the agents of Outcome, who rely on a cocktail of medication to keep them super-strong and super-smart are eliminated. All except Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who evades death and goes on the run with one of The Project’s medical personnel Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Together they begin a race against the clock to find more medication before he loses his abilities and their only chance of survival.
Taking over directorial responsiblities is Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter for the first two films (and The Bourne Legacy), who was unceremoniously removed for The Bourne Ultimatum. With him comes a drop in tension and the eclectic speed-cutting that made Greengrass’ action scenes so powerful and memorable. What the audience are left with in The Bourne Legacy is a film with precious little goodness to sustain the, what feels like longer 135 minute running time. Where Greengrass appreciated that the quality of the action relied in part on the engagement with the lead character, Gilroy seems perfectly prepared to beg, steal and borrow from better action films and rarely places his leads in anything like the danger or threat that Matt Damon experienced.
On the whole Renner is good as Cross, desperately fighting against the nature of the script to make him a superhero without the cape. There are glimpses of the character and humour that he can inject into a role, while he remains distant enough to be intriguing. It is clear that he is fast becoming one of the most likable, and bankable leads in Hollywood right now. Alongside his performance are good turns from Rachel Weisz, Albert Finney and Edward Norton. So while the cast are doing their best, their let down by the mediocre cinematography, narrative structure and resolution.
The Bourne Legacy spends so much of its time drawing influence on a host of better films that it becomes transparently clear that it doesn’t know what it actually is. There’s a tracking shot lifted out of The Grey, one of a plane that is similar to the beginning of Insomnia and it even has the audacity to re-enact the levy chase from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, complete with non-talking, unstoppable cypher villain. It is always a dangerous game to invoke other films, especially if they are much better in terms of quality and this is a lesson that The Bourne Legacy should have learnt before filming.
The constant references to Matt Damon’s Bourne along with contrived situations just to have cameos from he likes of Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Paddy Considine add extra drag factor to The Bourne Legacy‘s running time and it complete runs out of the steam in the final third. With little exciting action, and precious memorable scenes, it stands comfortably as the weakest installment and we can only hope that the studio throw money at Paul Greengrass to return for any future films in a last-ditch attempt to save the legacy of Bourne.