Everyone’s favourite forgetful assassin is back…but in name only. Matt Damon wouldn’t get on board with the project without director Paul Greengrass who did such a phenomenal job with The Bourne Ultimatum, certainly the highpoint in the series. Like the previous two films, The Bourne Legacy is pretty randomly titled as it begins in parallel with the opening of Ultimatum and all its Treadstone-conspiracy complexities before going off on its own tangent, rather than actually exploring the ‘legacy’ of Bourne. It introduces a b-plot which is completely redundant in terms of adding anything interesting to the existing canon.
While Ultimatum did a really good job in how it experimented with the timeline by using the first half of the film to bridge the gap between the penultimate and final scene of The Bourne Supremacy before expanding again and moving forward, Legacy tries to take us by surprise by paralleling the timeline of Ultimatum (with archival footage which probably only just confuses new viewers) and just makes you wish you were watching its far superior predecessor. With Bourne AWOL (and indeed Damon much to the annoyance of the screenwriters) and the seedy revelations of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programmes made public, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decides to terminate all agents belonging to Operation Outcome – the ‘next level’ of Treadstone and Blackbriar. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one of those agents, stationed in Alaska on a training assignment but finds he is starting to run out of the blue and green pills authorised to Outcome agents which increase mental and physical abilities. Whilst on the run from the ever-useless, sinister CIA (you’ve got to wonder how they set up some of these ambitious project in the first places), Cross finds himself in search of more pills and that search takes up a huge amount of the plot. If that wasn’t dull enough, the stakes of him not getting his hands on these pills aren’t properly explained. It’s stodgy and uninspired plotting and the whole thing lacks tension.
Without Greengrass we’re left with a bland and sterile effort. His signature handheld, sharply cut style is occasionally imitated but to poor effect. Greengrass achieved the rare skill of shooting action sequences with rapid cuts and the unsteadiest of unsteady cameras but really still made it feel physical and stylish and (relatively) easy to follow. It’s captivating and Greengrass is an expert. There is nothing identifiable or especially stylish about Legacy which just makes it feel like a little cousin who thinks they’re as cool as you and wants to be your friend. Some of the motor chases in the prior films are unforgettable but in Legacy they could have been copy and pasted from any number of action films while simultaneously trying to replicate stunts from the earlier Bourne movies.
Without Matt Damon’s Bourne, the film lacks intrigue and Renner’s character just doesn’t have anything going for him. The early scenes in Alaska seem to take forever with nothing happening and Cross is thoroughly uninvolving and lacks the necessary mystery, intelligence, personality or charisma. His relationship with ‘Bourne girl’ Marta Shearing (Rachael Weisz), a scientist involved in the production of Outcome pills has little of the subtle, tortured charm Bourne shared with his female co-stars. Essentially the film lacks the coolness of what you expect from a Bourne film while trying to poorly replicate the formula without its star. It’s the longest film in the series for no apparent reason but still the ending feels like it lacks conclusion and without ruining it, not only is the last line poorly delivered but come on – is that all you’ve got?
The Bourne Legacy is directed by Tony Gilroy, written by Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy and edited by John Gilroy. It feels like there’s a distinct lack of ideas and freshness. I’m fine with Bourne ‘only being the tip of the iceberg’ as long as that iceberg doesn’t melt immediately. Not only is it hard not to wonder what the absent eponymous hero is getting up to after his jump into the river when we last left him, but while expanding the world isn’t a problem on its own – it all seems to be lacking a few things which are all too obvious to give the film a bit of gravitas.
Review by David Rank
The Bourne Legacy is out on 10th August in the UK. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 135 mins.
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