The Bourne trilogy is an exercise in smart, pulsating action. Featuring gritty hand to hand combat, which was often accentuated by a stuttering camera, a technique wonderfully employed by Paul Greengrass in the last two films, the Bourne trilogy made for a bruising summer affair. It was as if we were recklessly running through a foreign street with Jason Bourne, absorbing every punch and ill-fated jump from roof to roof. The breathless sequences pale in comparison to the undeniable level of intelligence that worked its way throughout the trilogy’s narrative. Smoking guns, international politicking, and a past shrouded in amnesia, made going to the theater a necessary adventure. Supplanting the films’ uniqueness in laborious summer affairs was Matt Damon. Damon, an affable lead if there ever was one, possessed a physical and mental dexterity that made his contemporaries seem one-dimensional and insignificant. Unfortunately, a perceived new trilogy has opened up under the Bourne franchise banner, sans Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. Looking to start a new trilogy is The Bourne Legacy, a curious title that doesn’t even feature the titular character outside of fringe dialog. Continuity and brand recognition takes precedence over a clean slate, which says a bit right away.
Instead of Jason Bourne we follow Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another world-class assassin at the forefront of an invisible US government program. Cross shares many similarities with Bourne: He’s an ingenious fighter, a chameleon in the field, and has a checkered past that will likely be explored in future sequels. But Cross doesn’t belong to the same shadow cell as Bourne. Cross belongs to a more advanced class of black ops, one that finds him constantly ingesting pills to reach physical and mental peaks. In some respects he’s a super soldier. Running out of pills and finding himself as an indirect target from Jason Bourne’s activity in The Bourne Ultimatum, Cross aggressively tries to circumvent the program he belongs to. The man placing the crosshairs over Cross is none other than Eric Byer (a serviceable Edward Norton), an objective driven leader that oversees the government’s various undercover operations. Because of Jason Bourne’s activities in the earlier films, Byer feverishly attempts to exterminate the government’s hidden programs. Byer’s cleansing of inscrutable programs lends way to Aaron Cross seeking the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist who has engineered Cross’ physical prowess. Together Cross and Dr. Shearing jettison across the world, trying to work their way to a happy resolution. It’s a shame they garner mix results.
Actually, the actors are impressive, where the screenplay and direction, both anchored by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), lack the depth and urgency to propel the film into a worthwhile vehicle. Renner, who has finally received his first big studio leading role, is magnetic as always. Much like what Damon did with Bourne, Renner injects his international puppet with a great deal of wit and formidable strength. Mind you, Renner isn’t given enough material for us to dive deep in to the psyche of Cross, but he carries enough emotional baggage to make the global trek a worthy investment. Rachel Weisz’s attempts to flesh out her guilt ridden, restrained character provides vibrant hues to a person that would otherwise come across as dim. Renner and Weisz even almost sell the half-hearted (but expected) love angle softly boiling in the third act. Unfortunately, a weak script and meek direction fail Renner and Weisz. Where Greengrass’ direction allowed the audience to experience Bourne’s chaotic escape from a shadowy path, Gilroy’s eye is tepid at best, leaving many sequences feeling indistinguishable from anything else on the market.
Gilroy’s writing, accompanied by his brother’s penmanship, is also underwhelming. The script is certainly more concise in its development than the previous Bourne films, which had a variety of parts moving at breakneck speed, but the driving force behind the plot isn’t enough to propel the film from beginning to end. The most insignificant aspect of the script is its concern about a story thread that feels more like a side plot. One would think that escaping the government’s gridlock would be Cross’ true desire, but it receives little emphasis when compared to a mission that is more supplemental. Because of this, the film has random moments of inspiration surrounded by underdeveloped attempts to recapture the magic found in the previous Bourne films. By the time the last scene hits the screen, and we hear “Extreme Ways” playing over the final shot, a cue lifted straight from the Bourne trilogy, we can’t help but feel that The Bourne Legacy doesn’t pave its own way. Instead, it’s more interested in piggy backing off its staunch predecessor and toiling away in mediocrity.