The Bourne Legacy
Legacy intact! The Bourne franchise will be just fine without its Jason Bourne.
August 20, 2012
When the first Bourne movie premiered back in 2002, it was gratefully received as a dark and gritty counterpoint to the increasing absurdity of the James Bond franchise. While Pierce Brosnan's 007 was windsurfing an arctic tidal wave forged from the dislodging of a polar ice cap by a space laser (Die Another Day), Matt Damon's Jason Bourne was stabbing a man with a biro. While Bond was driving an invisible car through an ice palace, Bourne was being driven around by an unemployed German girl in a banged up Mini. The smaller, intimate scale of the films resonated with audiences no longer amused by special effects gimmickry, and pretty soon even Bond followed suit.
Ten years and two films later, the main challenge for writer Tony Gilroy (who'd also penned the previous movies) was figuring out how to slot The Bourne Legacy into the franchise without actually featuring Jason Bourne. His nifty solution was placing Legacy concurrent with the events of Bourne Ultimatum, offering audiences continuity whilst also opening up new plots and characters. As a consequence, and even without the trademark shaky cam of Paul Greengrass, Legacy feels very much a part of the Bourne universe.
Taking over the reigns from Damon is current action everyman Jeremy Renner. Part hit man, part chemistry experiment, Renner's character is every bit as capable, demonstrating the requisite Man vs Wild survival skills and MacGyver-like ingenuity that helped define the series. Where Legacy diverges is in its protagonist's motivation. Unburdened by the amnesia that underscored Bourne's ambition, Renner's character simply seeks the medication needed to sustain his above-average traits.
It's less pedestrian than it sounds but also far less compelling or memorable than the earlier movies. In fact, less than a day after the screening, I couldn't for the life of me remember a single character’s name aside from Jason Bourne (who's not in it) and an incidental lab technician (who's, well…entirely incidental). That's not Renner’s fault, and in a roundabout way almost fitting for a film about nameless assassins.
Joining Renner on his flight from the authorities is Rachel Weisz in a role not dissimilar from her fugitive scientist in 1996's Chain Reaction. Theirs is actually a more appealing relationship than Bourne's from the original, and it's refreshing to see a genuine male/female partnership in an action film rather than the traditional hero/damsel dynamic. Edward Norton is characteristically absorbing as the agent leading their pursuit, and the only real shocker is Aussie actor Shane Jacobson popping up in a cameo that offers the textbook definition of cultural cringe.
Well-paced, full of action and with an engaging leading man, Bourne Legacy ensures we've not seen the end of the franchise just yet.