The Bourne Legacy starts off during the events of The Bourne Ultimatum.
All the programs that produced Jason Bourne, and that spun off from those programs, are coming to light.
The controllers (played by the likes of Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, and Donna Murphy) decide that to protect a later program (LARX – as in, we couldn’t come up with a name like the other program names, so we picked this on a lark), they must destroy all the agents of the other programs.
Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) narrowly escapes being blown up by a drone and goes looking for the maintenance medications that keep him functioning.
Doesn’t that sound exciting?
If it sounds like it’s the worst of the four movies, you’re only sort of wrong.
I’m a big fan of Jeremy Renner, and I enjoy looking at Rachel Weisz as much as any other straight guy. Edward Norton is a terrific actor.
Tony Gilroy directed Michael Clayton and Duplicity before this, and has a longer history as a screenwriter. I thought he did a very good job directing The Bourne Legacy – as in, his direction was far less intrusive and distracting than that of Paul Greengrass.
So why am I not more positive overall?
Here we have a character in a context with a conflict, and that’s where the trouble starts.
The context is a complete muddle, from the get-go. If you haven’t seen the other three movies, and if it’s been five years since you saw The Bourne Ultimatum, you’re going to be confused.
Tony Gilroy, as a writer, is way too fond of espionage euphemisms.
While they may be realistic, they actively interfere when establishing context.
In the opening scenes, we get program names thrown around, and Edward Norton berating his subordinates for no apparent reason. He obviously cares deeply about something, we’re just not sure what.
Here we have a disconnect between the cerebral British espionage movies of the ’70s and ’80s, and American action movies.
The handlers are supposed to provide the taut, intellectual thrills while the field agents (like Cross) provide the physical thrills. Unfortunately, the two don’t blend well here.
On another note, another flaw of this film is that it really only has two characters – Aaron Cross and Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).
Dr. Donald Foite (Zeljko Ivanek) sort of has a character, but his lack of development is forgivable, considering how little screen time he has.
We get lots of screen time with Retired Colonel Eric Byer, USAF (Ed Norton), Dita Mandy (Donna Murphy), Retired Admiral Mark Turso, USN (Stacy Keach), and Terrence Ward (Dennis Boutsikaris), but we have no idea who they are.
I didn’t realize either of the retired military officers were retired military officers until I checked IMDB. They’re just cardboard cut-outs of angry, desperate, government officials.
The other big problem is the script itself.
It rushes through a process of making Aaron Cross a stable, ongoing, character. It doesn’t bother to resolve anything – except the deaths of his peers.
Here are some examples of plot points that got rushed over:
- Why is Aaron Cross in Alaska? I mean, he’s supposed to be taking meds on a regular basis and getting regular check-ups, so why is he in such an isolated place? What is he training for? Is he naturally a loner?
- Prior to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military was raising its standards for enlistment because so many qualified people volunteered. So why did a recruiter lie about Cross’s IQ to get him in the military? Better yet, why was he selected for the program, considering his obvious mental deficiencies? I could come up with reasons, but they wouldn’t be supported by anything in the script.
- Why did the government plant an operative in Sterisyn-Morlanta? That’s a long-term commitment of a very expensive asset for possible need that might never arise. Wouldn’t some plastic explosives or a fire caused by “faulty” wiring have been more efficient?
- Just how much biomedical work with live viruses goes on in the Philippines? For all I know, it could be quite a lot. Expecting your audience to know that the Philippines are a hotbed for pharmacological development seems a bit much, though. There should have been dialogue explaining it.
Somehow, the idea of making a good movie got lost in the need to extend the franchise. That said, I’d watch another one. Jeremy Renner was ready for this role, and does a fine job with it.
Hopefully, he’ll get a better script next time.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.