Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Premise: The fourth film in the Bourne series. Occurring simultaneously with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, executives in the CIA dismantle their illegal assassination program by killing everyone involved. An assassin in training (Jeremy Renner) and a doctor (Rachel Weisz) go on the run.
What Works: The Bourne Legacy is an attempt to restart the Bourne series and it is mostly successful at doing that. The ending of the previous picture, The Bourne Ultimatum, had tied off the story and closed the series. The filmmakers of The Bourne Legacy reopen the story in a smart way, by tying the events of this film directly to the events of Ultimatum and find a way to deliver a relatively new story. Like any good sequel, The Bourne Legacy continues what was appealing about the previous films while also contributing new material that broadens the story world. This picture introduces a new hero in Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, and Cross is similar to Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon in the first three films, in that he struggles with his identity and finds himself on the run from the establishment. However, Cross is also a distinctly different character from Bourne and the filmmakers of Legacy distinguish him as someone in search of a human connection. He finds that connection in a doctor played by Rachel Weisz. The Bourne series has had a predominantly male cast and most of the female characters in previous films have been very masculine. Weisz’s character is feminine but she is also intelligent and takes an active part in the story in ways that other female characters in this series have not. The most interesting element of The Bourne Legacy is the way in which it explores the training program and expands the web of clandestine agencies. The filmmakers of Legacy open up entirely new areas that lead to new possibilities for this film and for possible follow ups.
What Doesn’t: The Bourne Legacy is satisfying but it is a step down from the excellence of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. The two previous films were directed by Paul Greengrass, who has a frantic but intelligent filmmaking style. Although all the pictures in this series follow more or less the same plot structure, Greengrass’ pictures were distinguished because they managed to cover a lot of geography, exposition, and story through ruthlessly efficient filmmaking that left the viewer breathless. The Bourne Legacy was directed by Tony Gilroy who had written all the previous installments and he clearly has a grasp on the material. However, Legacy is more loosely paced and does not dig very deep. While it competently executes the kinds of chases and spy games that have made the Bourne films appealing, it comes across as more of the same. Legacy also lacks the dramatic urgency of the previous films in part because Aaron Cross is not as well written as Jason Bourne. One of the outstanding qualities of the first three Bourne films was the way in which the title character struggled with issues of identity and guilt and the entire series had an overarching theme of the character coming to terms with what he had done. Legacy does not have anything quite that potent for its main character. This becomes most apparent in the conclusion as The Bourne Legacy does not reach a resolution; nothing is affirmed or won and the movie just ends. The finale is clearly setting up the series for future installments but it does that in part by undoing the resolution of Ultimatum. This is a risky ending and if there are to be more Bourne films it is going to be incumbent on the filmmakers to find a more satisfying ending.
Bottom Line: The Bourne Legacy is an acceptable sequel that matches the quality of the original film. It navigates a difficult narrative problem in ways that keep the series alive but future Bourne films are going to have to work hard to restore it to the heights of previous pictures.
Episode: #401 (August 19, 2012)