Replacing Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as the covert operative on the run from Central Intelligence Agency, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is in Alaska trying to reach a cabin where he will meet another agent like him. Meanwhile the aftermath of Jason Bourne’s exposure and sabotage of the Blackbriar CIA operation that created a series of special assassins has political repercussions as Deputy Director Pamela Landy is about to testify at a Senate hearing. To contain any upcoming crisis, the Blackbriar team has to eliminate every field operative it has. However, Cross survives and is determined to stop his former bosses and get the drugs he needs to sustain himself with the help of Doctor Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Will Cross succeed and continue Jason Bourne’s legacy?
As both director Paul Greengrass and principal actor Matt Damon were not part of this sequel to the popular spy trilogy inspired by Robert Ludlum’s novels, there was a chance that this movie would lose much of the tone and thread of the previous two films and the original, directed by Doug Liman. However, with screenplay writer Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplay for all the previous film as the director of this fourth incarnation of the Bourne storyline, the film is allegedly in good hands.
Instead of a total reboot, we get a spin off the main storyline continuing to explore the conspiracy of the Blackbriar group, but through another operative that might as well be called Jason Bourne 2. Cross however, has different disabilities than Bourne. Instead of selective dissociative amnesia, he suffers from low intelligence that is only enhanced by the drugs he takes as part of the Blackbriar program. Without the drugs, he loses his edge. I like that that just like the original protagonist, he has a major physical flaw that cripples his otherwise perfect mind.
The Bourne Legacy, instead of being linear much like the original films, starts with a crisscross of parallel editing scenes that show the point of view of the CIA and the pharmaceutical company that supports them before finally tying that subplot with that of Cross adventuring in Alaska. One can see where it will go next as Cross arrives just in time to save Dr. Shearing from a cleanup job. The story then builds upon the theme of the damsel in distress saved by the super spy who then both fall in love with each another. While we can see where Shearing slowly gains empathy for Cross, except for a flashback about one of their reunions in the past, there is little about Renner’s acting that shows he cares about Shearing. Also, there was far more humor in this film, in the interacting between the two protagonists, than the angst portrayed in previous films. While it broke the mood, I’m not sure if it was effective.
Something that is interesting, but is also a continuity problem, is the use of cyber operations to monitor the actions of Cross and Shearing. The use of drone planes, which are much more frequent today than they were a decade ago when the story (in theory) takes place, seems out of place. The earlier Bourne films did use a lot of information warfare techniques, but not to the same extent. Saying that this film occurs just days or months after the last one, The Bourne Ultimatum, doesn’t make much sense in terms of the technology on display.
This movie had less physical action than the previous ones, where we could see Bourne’s martial art skills on display constantly. Here, we know that Cross has similar skills, but there are much less fights with equally skilled opponents. Much of the last arc of the film was taken up by a motorcycle/car chase around Manila against LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien). There was no payback in the hand to had fighting department. The movie seemed to miss something at the end as it just ended without any real resolution, similar to The Bourne Identity, but without much of the plot or the deep relationship between the two protagonists being tied up. I’d say that’s because it took so much time to establish Cross' backstory as the new Bourne, that not much time was left for telling the present time story. It also means that there will be more Bourne movies using Renner. Let’s hope they don’t kill off Shearing at the beginning of the first one like they did in The Bourne Supremacy.