Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz in The Bourne Legacy.
Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz in a scene from 'The Bourne Legacy' - Photo © Universal Pictures

Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Robert Ludlam wrote three books about Jason Bourne: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum. After his passing in 2001, Eric Van Lustbader took up the series and has since written seven (yes, SEVEN) additions to the Bourne canon. A quick comparison between the synopsis for number four, The Bourne Legacy, and the film sharing that title sees drastic differences: most importantly that the book is still about Jason Bourne.
After director Paul Greengrass left the film project, Matt Damon packed up as well; leaving a large, tax-sheltered hole where Universal was hoping big piles of cash would be dumped. A logical plan was then put in place, bumping one of the co-writers of the previous three films’ screenplays into the director’s chair. Thankfully, with that person being Tony Gilroy, it’s not a cop out (he previously directed Michael Clayton). His intimate knowledge of the film series seemed like a perfect match and he once again co-wrote the screenplay. Problem is, this was no longer The Bourne Legacy as a new character had to be brought in (Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross). Instead, what we have is a film I prefer to call ReBourne.
More than an easy quip, that moniker would be far more helpful for fans of the franchise when trying to temper their expectations. Now, I’m not saying this was a bad movie; it’s actually quite good. They wove the timeline of the last films in with this one, making it feel like an organic extension of what we’ve been told up to this point. Renner is a wonderful addition to the world Matt Damon introduced audiences to and Rachel Weisz makes for a tremendous romantic and intellectual match (how she manages to make me believe she’s in love with each and every actor she works with is astounding). The story unfolds in an engaging manner, the action is decent, and the new version of Moby’s Extreme Ways introduced at the end of the third film is back again as the end credits get rolling (some version of the song has been there for each previous film).
However, problems arose when I stopped to gather my thoughts and put the events of the film into a larger context. What follows after this paragraph isn’t quite spoiler material in terms of specific plot elements but might lay out more than you want to know ahead of time. If all you’re interested in is whether or not you should see the movie, the short answer is ‘yes’, assuming you liked the other three. I have no idea why you’d be interested in seeing it if you didn’t.
That out of the way, I’d really like to know why, aside from financial gain, Tony Gilroy bothered to make the movie at all. Due to the need to introduce a new character, this is essentially an origin film. That makes sense. But aside from the differences in how much Aaron Cross knows about the super secret program he’s involved with, and a lack of amnesia, nearly every beat of the movie is a distorted mirror of The Bourne Identity.

We have a non-spy female love interest who initially is a means to an end but becomes much more than that. The CIA wants nothing more than to mitigate any possible blowback that might occur if the public finds out about their shady projects that don’t officially exist. The chase spans across country borders and you had better believe there’s another specially trained assassin tasked with finding our hero and making him dead.
I’m almost more upset about this film than the completely unnecessary foreign film remakes for audiences unwilling to read subtitles that continue to make my blood boil. At least those are known quantities. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, purporting to propel the franchise in a new direction but ultimately leaving us at the same point the first film did. If they follow through with the trajectory of The Bourne Supremacy, Rachel Weisz may not want to plan to be a part of this franchise after the next movie.
And make no mistake, there will be more. It’s highly doubtful audiences will resist the urge to see what is one of the surer bets of the summer, there are six more novels already in publication to draw ideas from (or two movies if they keep up with these shenanigans), and what studio doesn’t want to make money? While I will continue to be interested in future installments, I can only hope that the story will veer from it’s previous path and not just because at some point there will be an offer Damon (and possibly Greengrass) can’t refuse. The end goal is so obviously a team up of these two very capable killing machines with hearts of gold. After all, if The Avengers taught Hollywood anything, it’s that building anticipation for some grand collaboration will probably net you even bigger piles of cash to stick in even bigger, tax-sheltered holes. And that’s the true goal of movie making these days, isn’t it?
The Bourne Legacy hits theaters on August 10, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences.