Based on a series of novels by Robert Ludlum, the Bourne Trilogy is a top-notch series of modern-day spy films. Part action and part political intrigue, the trilogy chronicled the adventures of Jason Bourne as he tried to extricate himself from a former life as a CIA assassin. "The Bourne Legacy" attempts to expand on that same universe, bringing in new characters and new situations, but it ultimately fails to shine like its predecessors.
With the bulk of the movie set shortly after the events of "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Bourne Legacy" ties into the existing universe by focusing on the aftermath of Bourne's actions. When Bourne teamed up with Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) to expose the Treadstone project, it brought classified black-ops programs to light, resulting in the CIA decision to burn all similar operations to the ground. As a result, all of the current operatives are eliminated. Through a stroke of luck, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) survives the initial purge and is determined to find out why his former employer wants him dead.
Renner puts in a fine performance as Cross, though as a willing participant in the program, he has none of the doubts or memory issues that plagued Bourne. His is not a quest for identity; rather, it is more of a survival issue. Sadly, the script writer seems to have forgotten that half the fun of watching a Bourne film is seeing how the protagonist intelligently outmaneuvers his opponents. We see that early on in the film when Cross avoids those tracking him and rescues Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), but afterward, the action sequences are pretty much all action.
The fights are respectably choreographed, with Renner looking worn but determined throughout the latter half of the film. Cross isn't a precision killer like Bourne or even Bond, though what he lacks in finesse, he makes up for with raw power.
Serving as a contrast to Cross is Shearing. Running for her life, Shearing is initially an emotional mess. The circumstances force her to confront the practical reality of her research, as Cross points out that what she was doing wasn't confined to the lab. The screenplay attempts to make a point about ethics in the medical field, though it misses the mark. As the film progresses, Shearing evolves into a more confident fighter, exceeding her own initial expectations. Of all the characters, she's the only one who shows the most growth.
Given two strong leads and a ready-made universe, you'd expect "The Bourne Legacy" to follow the formula of its predecessors by taking off like a rocket and never letting up. Unfortunately, the movie's script seems to suffer from its own identity crisis. While Cross may know exactly who he is, the story meanders greatly.
The most egregious error is that the script tries way too hard to tie the film into the previous movie. "The Bourne Ultimatum" pulled off this trick well by replaying a short sequence from the end of "The Bourne Supremacy." Had "The Bourne Legacy" kept its references to a minimum, it would have been fine. Instead, the new film goes out of its way (and wastes quite a bit of screen time doing so) to tie in with events from "The Bourne Ultimatum." It would have been better to use that screen time to further develop the characters of Cross and Shearing.
Unnecessary screen time is also wasted on the elimination of existing assets by the CIA. From a story point, all that's important is that the decision was made to kill off everyone. That's established in the first few minutes of the film. Had the death montage from the trailers been used here, it would have been perfect. Instead, the movie wastes an entire reel showing us how random (and insignificant to the story) operatives are killed.
The primary story threads also suffer from indecisiveness, with an early plot point centering around Cross' need for a specific medication. That's resolved quickly, only for the film to switch into chase mode with the agency sending everything it has at him and Shearing. Oddly, there is no resolution to this latter point, as the movie simply ends at a rather random moment. Cross and Shearing are on the run, planning their next move and … the credits roll.
To be clear, "The Bourne Legacy" doesn't end on a cliffhanger. It just sort of randomly stops. From a story perspective, it feels as though the movie contains the first two acts of three-act story. Rather than showing the audience a self-contained story, "The Bourne Legacy" simply chronicles a bunch of things that happened in the Bourne universe. With no resolution, everything falls flat.
Despite having an interesting premise, "The Bourne Legacy" fails to engage on the same level as the films in the original trilogy. The characters are solid but ultimately wasted on a story that goes nowhere. It ends up feeling more like a big-budget fan production rather than a new entry in the blockbuster franchise.
"The Bourne Legacy" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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