The new installation of the Bourne franchise is lacking more than just Jason Bourne himself.
No, The Bourne Legacy is not a reboot despite the absence of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Instead it picks up near the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, linking the impact of Bourne’s journey with new agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). Due to Bourne’s insubordination and status as a fugitive from the highly secretive operation that “created” agents like him and Cross, the entire operation is being shut down. The take-down is being headed by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who seeks to destroy all active agents and any non-government officials involved with the project. This includes all the scientists working to make agents like Cross stronger and smarter. One, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), is the only survivor after one of her fellow scientists goes postal and kills the rest of her co-workers involved with the secret operation. Of course, they can’t let her get away, just like they can’t let Cross escape either.
It’s not a terrible idea, linking the original trilogy to this new installment rather than doing something new. At the very least, it justifies keeping the Bourne name in the title. However it lacks much of what made the Damon films so exciting. Whereas Bourne was fighting the CIA and amnesia, not to mention the death of Marie in The Bourne Supremacy, Cross’ crusade is more tame. Bourne’s amnesia allowed him to realize he was a person, not a machine, and that he wanted out. Cross really has no choice because it’s escape or die for him. The film does set up Cross as more “human” than other agents. It opens with him deep in the arctic on a training mission and when he completes it, coming across another agent in a remote cabin, he appears almost lackadaisical about the entire thing, much to the chagrin of the other agent (Oscar Isaac).
His real mission, besides staying alive, is to keep up with his “chems.” A more superior type of agent than Bourne, he takes a green pill to enhance his physical strength and a blue pill to enhance his intelligence and mental strength. Not only does he not want to lose that edge, he’ll need it if he wants to survive. It’s for this reason that he finds and links up with Dr. Shearing, one of the doctors that monitored him. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have direct access to the chems and they must go on another mission to get them.
Bourne’s amnesia created a human element to his plight. When he awoke, he was a lost person who happened to have the skills of a highly trained secret agent. Yet, that’s not who he was in his mind anymore, and he wanted out. While Legacy sets up Cross as slightly more “human” than his counterparts, his character doesn’t have the complexity Bourne had. That’s not to say that Jeremy Renner doesn’t do Cross justice, because he fits the role well. He just doesn’t have as much to work with as Damon did. And those moments where director/writer Tony Gilroy (writer on all three previous Bourne installments) does try to humanize Cross and make him less of a robotic agent feels slightly forced into the story.
Similarly, while Weisz plays Dr. Shearing with aplomb, she just feels like a cheaper version of Marie (Franka Potente). Even worse is that Weisz and Renner just don’t have the chemistry Damon and Potente had. Whereas Bourne reluctantly allowed Potente to tag along, initially at her insistence, it’s at Cross’ insistence that Shearing is around in the first place. While it’s in her best interest to go with him in order to stay along, the only reason he finds her in the first place is because he knows she’s the only survivor from the lab and he needs his chems. So while he’s the good guy, it’s hard to wonder if he would still save her if he knew she didn’t have access to what he wants.
Still, despite all these issues, it’s a fun film. Fans of the Damon trilogy will enjoy Legacy as a direct continuation of that story, even if all of the major players from those films are largely missing. Renner does a fine job as the “new Bourne” even if he’s not given enough to work with to truly challenge Damon’s Bourne. It’s nice to see Edward Norton in a role like this but he’s criminally underused and devoid of personality. Like Renner, he just doesn’t have as much to work with like Chris Cooper did in The Bourne Identity and Joan Allen did in Supremacy and Ultimatum. But The Bourne Legacy isn’t a total failure, it just pales in comparison to what came before it. Fans of the Bourne franchise should still have fun with this one.