"Legacy" Strays From Course Set By Previous "Bourne" Films

“The Bourne Legacy” is a mostly confounding piece of summer escapism, especially in relation to its predecessors. It’s an exercise in restraint and minimalism, unexpectedly full of quiet moments and featuring an almost entirely cordoned-off narrative. The references to the previous “Bourne” films are the worst part of “Legacy,” but not simply because they add nothing to the story. This sequel/reboot is a completely different animal and the nods to Damon’s films hold “Legacy” back from being its own entity. In fact, the title isn’t even appropriate because Jason Bourne is missing in action, and the word “legacy” suggests something sweeping and broad, maybe even far-reaching. This latest chapter in this series is anything but.

Jeremy Renner is a properly steely-eyed and reserved successor to the throne. His Aaron Cross isn’t suffering from a literal identity crisis, but his purpose in life has slipped away from him. He’s hooked on the meds (referred to as “chems”) that were originally supposed to make him superhuman, but now he’s become dependent on them to the degree that they control his life – and his supply is running out. Renner’s performance is understated, which is line with the film, and most his of his emoting is done through facial expressions instead of dialogue. He’s got a firm grasp on the character but he never goes out of his way to oversell the material.

This time around, Edward Norton’s Colonel Byer leads the operation to terminate the remaining Treadstone agents, but his role is ineffectual at best. Norton is a highly capable actor, but he’s given very little to work with and he’s limited to occasionally barking orders at subordinates. The holdover “Bourne” characters (Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Paddy Considine) get no more than three minutes of screentime, total. Oscar Isaac gets a few notable scenes with Renner as a fellow Treadstone agent, but his character’s motives and reasons for being in the film are unclear. If nothing else, he gives Cross someone to talk to in the first half hour.

Cross eventually comes to the rescue of his Treadstone-sanctioned doctor, Marta Shearing, who is in mortal danger for mysterious reasons. Rachel Weisz gives Shearing a distinct vulnerability, and while her naivety becomes a bit grating, she paints a convincing portrait of a woman unsure and rightfully fearful of her surroundings. Thankfully, there aren’t any overt romantic allusions, and the development of the relationship between Cross and Shearing feels really natural. They’re the only two people in the world that can take care of each other, and this unspoken agreement is reassuring to both them and us, the audience, especially in the midst of gunfire and explosions.

That’s not to say that “Legacy” is full of gunfire and explosions. The action scenes are scattered throughout the screenplay and make up maybe 30 minutes of the 2 hour and 15 minute running time. Instead of relative tranquility accenting violence (as in Damon’s films), the violence accents the tranquility. When physical danger does arise for our heroes, the setpieces seem even more blunt and frenzied than before. Luckily, writer and director Tony Gilroy forgoes the shaky cam tactics employed by Paul Greengrass, and most of the film is shot in a very matter-of-fact, traditional manner.

Simply put, “The Bourne Legacy” isn’t the film audiences are expecting. The crowd-pleasing nature of the original trilogy is in short supply here and the newfound intimacy of the story will put off a lot of viewers. The understated nature of Gilroy’s screenplay brings a breathability that’s all new to the series, and I expect the reaction to be rather diverse. But, the commitment to reinvention on the part of the filmmakers is admirable and the open-ended nature of the conclusion suggests that we haven’t seen the last of these characters – including Jason Bourne. Despite a few hiccups in the story, there’s nothing “wrong” with the film on a technical level. It’s a film of small but definite victories. But, I suspect it won’t provide the cinematic jolt that many are looking for in a “Bourne” film.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: August 10, 2012
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and action sequences)