In the first three episodes of the Bourne movie franchise based on Robert Ludlum’s novel, Jason Bourne has shaken the foundations of the CIA-based programs that created him. The careers of government operatives and politicians are now being questioned and the justification for their covert operations is tenuous at best. At this point, the vultures are hovering and the wagons are being circled to protect the power base that has an ethos of patriotism and a desire to protect the sheep they call the American public.
With a desire to reboot the franchise Director Tony Gilroy was given the leeway to develop a new storyline with help from his brother Dan who recently penned the screenplay for Real Steel. The result is a parallel life story based on agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) who had volunteered in a black ops program that had been testing the bounds of developing the human body in both physical strength and mental acuity. The chemical-derived enhancements have produced dependent warriors and this is where we join the story.
Cross is shown to be an elite member of the program and the script shows his capability in the introduction via the snow-covered mountain wilderness. While the opening which draws on the content we saw in the trailer was promising this is where the story seems to break down. In an effort to explain where Aaron Cross fits into the Bourne universe too much of the movie is the back story and not enough is developed around his own mission. From a story perspective, it felt like we went through a one-and-a-half-hour introduction followed by a thirty-minute conclusion. In the end, my friend and I were confused that we had reached the end of the movie. If this was a purposeful decision to carry the character across into a new movie then it was a risky call.
Don’t get me wrong on the visual content of the movie. The film is very much in sync with the rest of the Bourne franchise. Renner presents a different version of Jason Bourne, a more edgy determined character with a sense of survival based on guts rather than class. In some ways, I’ve always seen the Bourne saga as an American response to James Bond and in that way, this follows a similar change of actor from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig.
On-screen Renner is complimented by a cast of cameos and glimpses of past characters in the form of Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen. A pleasant surprise was the Aussie accent of Shane Jacobson the actor behind the toilet cleaning entrepreneur character of “Kenny” heading up a medical production facility in the Philippines. Stacey Keach plays the government link man to the political arena while Edward Norton leads the clean-up brigade when it becomes apparent that in the aftermath of Jason Bourne questions of resourcing the hidden projects could affect the sustenance of many intelligence programmes. What was a shame in this story is that we didn’t see more conflict between Norton and Renner. The opportunity for this to be a moralistic battle of ideas could have been better portrayed with a head-to-head with the protagonists.
The leading lady is Rachel Weisz as scientist Dr Marta Shearing, an aspiring biological genius caught up in the program and who knows too much. While Cross becomes her protector the co-dependent relationship develops while she helps to keep him alive due to the chemical elements to which his genetically enhanced body has become attached. Weisz provides the right damsel performance to show the panic and confusion that every hero requires in their Lois Lane but you sense it could have developed further if it wasn’t for the priority the back story lag we felt was given to Cross’s character.
The highlight of The Bourne Legacy movie was a chase sequence through Manila which showed the chaos of Filipino traffic and produced the most edge-of-your-seat moments. Kudos to the way these scenes were made. The normal traffic of Manila would have been too traffic jammed to provide the space they needed so I’ll look forward to seeing this scene unravelled in the ‘Making of’ part of the DVD release.
The possible development of a Bourne and Cross-based script story for the next episode will of course depend on whether this movie sinks or swims. My gut feeling is it has enough of the working man’s action to hold audiences and carry the Aaron Cross character forward in the Bourne franchise.
I’m giving The Bourne Legacy 2.5 stars out of 5 because it could have risen to greater heights.