Bourne is back, sort of, in The Bourne Legacy, an expansion on the world of the original Bourne trilogy featuring a new central character, Aaron Cross (played by Jeremy Renner). In the world of Jason Bourne, this installment may not be completely necessary, but as a sharp, taut actioner it delivers on the type of visceral experience we’ve come to expect from the Bourne franchise.
Tony Gilroy, screenwriter of the first three Bourne films and director of the superb Michael Clayton, is back this time as writer and director, offering the steady hand at attempting to bridge the gap between this installment and the previous three. With no Matt Damon on board, it’s difficult to build a connection between Aaron Cross and Bourne, as Gilroy certainly gives it his best shot. I can’t really say it adds anything to the previous films, let alone this one, as if anything The Bourne Legacy feels constrained by the connection, as the world seems fairly separate, regardless of the fact the events in this film coincide with those of the previous trilogy.
Aaron Cross is an agent for Operation Outcome – a sort of sister program to Treadstone – whose life is threatened as the CIA attempts to clean up its programs after the catastrophe facing them due to the actions of Jason Bourne and Pamela Landy seen in The Bourne Ultimatum. The first third or so of the film is spent building up Cross as both a deadly operative – shown through scenes of “training” deep in the Alaskan wilderness – as well as illustrating the dire situation facing Cross and the other Outcome operatives. It’s a slow going for about forty minutes or so, but a necessary one.
When a seemingly random and horrific attack on an Outcome scientific lab, where operatives of the program received mysterious and advanced “chems” and medicine, leaves a lone survivor in the form of Dr. Marta Shearling (Rachel Weisz), it becomes clear her life is in danger, as she goes on the run with Cross in a mad dash for survival. This rather lengthy build-up leads to an overly long running time and opening act, although once it’s out of the way there’s only smooth (and exhilarating) sailing.
Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz are convincing as the two leads and own the screen in both the high paced action and slower scenes. It’s a form of chemistry and relationship that we don’t typically see in an action film such as this, but it works fantastically. Among those chasing Cross and Shearling at the CIA are returning faces such as Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney) and Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), as well as newcomer and chief antagonist Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who is portrayed terrifically, not as an inherently evil person but simply as a man in a tough position of power.
Familar faces such as Joan Allen as Pamela Landy and David Strathairn as Noah Vosen are shown intermittently, but the majority of the attention is placed on Cross and Shearling as they are chased throughout the world by Byer and the desperate CIA, forever the antagonistic, evil government agency. The action is perhaps less relenting in The Bourne Legacy than in previous installments, but when Gilroy opens up the throttle, it is as exhilarating and inventive as any action we’ve seen from the franchise.
Chief among these moments is a lengthy pursuit through the streets of Manila that is unrivaled in terms of action filmmaking we’ve seen this year. Decidedly less frantic and shaky than the camera employed by Paul Greengrass in The Bourne Ultimatum, there is nevertheless the familiar style in which the franchise portrays action seen here. Manila is the perfect playground for such a scene, crowded, foreign and frantic. The landscape here is a perfect one, as Gilroy leaves no stone unturned in a scene so captivating and visceral it alone is enough to whet the appetite of any Bourne fan.
The Bourne Legacy is a smart, efficient and exhilarating actioner with a solid duo in Renner and Weisz, however the connection between this and the other films in the franchise does more harm than good. Outside of the scope of Jason Bourne we have a solid, international thriller, which is lessened by the film’s insistence on buliding a larger picture of the Jason Bourne tale, when really it is quite unnecessary here. That aside, Tony Gilroy has offered up a satisfying actioner in the same vein as the previous Bourne films that should appease both fans and non-fans alike.
Rated: PG-13 (for violence and intense action sequences)
The Bourne Legacy opens in theaters on August 10, 2012.