Here’s the thing with a film like The Bourne Legacy, a film that occupies the same universe as a popular franchise (the Bourne films with Matt Damon) that doesn’t follow the same story as them, and that’s that nobody really knows if they want a film like that. A lot of people are skeptical that the film would be perhaps just made for the cash, and who can blame them? With the popular franchise tag and Jeremy Renner in the leading role, it’s a big draw. Fortunately, the film is not just a cash cow project, it has merits of its own.
The film’s story is always vague and unclear, which is something of an issue, although it essentially centers on Aaron Cross (Renner), an agent from the government branch that created Bourne. But that’s basically all you’re told, and the film’s pacing and narrative strength is majorly hampered throughout a clumsy first act. It’s cross cutting and attempts to tie it into the events of The Bourne Ultimatum (using the excellent Waterloo station scene) weaken the strength of the narrative, and you’re never quite sure where you are with it chronologically. The flaws in the script remain present, particularly in the final act, where it simply descends into predictable thriller territory, when it had the potential to be something greater than that.
It doesn’t really get going until Aaron and Dr. Shearing (Rachel Weisz) meet. Weisz plays the role ably enough, but she is painfully underwritten and seems to serve as nothing more than a foil for Renner.
Some of the new characters however, are interesting, and very well performed. Renner, for instance, brings charisma and a dynamic sense to the character of Cross, elevating him to more than just another weapon, and he allows the audience to latch on to him and root for the character. The cast highlight is Edward Norton Eric Byer, who leads the hunt for Cross. It is a testament to Norton’s ability as an actor that he can bring such conviction and presence to the role, helping to keep the pace of the film up, giving a gripping portrayal whenever he’s on screen.
Renner and Norton in The Bourne Legacy
Tension is built well and, like all of the films before it, it is filled with excellent and well executed combat set pieces, bolstered by high speed camerawork and high energy fight choreography.
Perhaps the film’s main issue is that it lives forever in the shadow of the film’s that came before it. It never manages to get the narrative clarity of The Bourne Ultimatum, or the sense of mystery of The Bourne Identity. Also, the old guard are sorely missed, particularly the always excellent David Strathairn as Noah Vosen. The issue here is of course that the film does have its own merits, a charismatic lead performance and an excellent supporting turn from Norton, but it can never quite spread its wings and be its own film.
By no means a bad film, The Bourne Legacy is hampered by its label as a Bourne film, as it tirelessly tries to latch onto the films before it, it’s writing feels clumsy in the first act and predictable in the last. It is saved by the dynamic set pieces associated with the series that spawned it, and a strong, dynamic performance from Renner. While it does have plenty of merits of its own, it simply doesn’t seem to have the staying power of the first trilogy.