The Bourne Legacy is a movie without an identity (ha – see what I did there?). The title itself implies that we are going to learn more about something related to Jason Bourne, more details about Treadstone and its other assassins, or possibly some new program initiated as a follow-up to Treadstone. Any of these would give reason for our new assassin, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), to exist while tying it back to Bourne. Instead, Cross is part of a completely different program (called Outcome) that is running independently and in parallel with Treadstone. The connection between the two is tenuous at best, only sharing the same upper management and the objective to train assassins. Neither Bourne nor his legacy have anything to do with Cross or Outcome.
Legacy begins with two separate events happening at the same time. On one side, we are introduced to Cross while he is executing a training program in a snowy mountain range. On the other side, we’re watching The Bourne Ultimatum. Literally, we’re watching scenes from the movie – the reporter being shot in the train station, scenes with Scott Glenn, David Strathairn, and Joan Allen, the room with all of the analysts trying to catch Bourne, etc. This is the point at which the audience becomes completely confused. As part of the opening, we meet the head of all of these assassin programs, Eric Byer (Edward Norton). He receives news that a virus created for Outcome has gotten out and they need to destroy the program to keep it from getting out. At least that’s what I thought at first. The next thing we know, they’re worried about the reporter or Bourne divulging all of the programs. Except, the reporter is killed and Bourne barely even knows about his program, let alone the entire clandestine set of programs. This is that tenuous link I mentioned earlier and is never cleared up. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
We soon learn that the assassins in Outcome have been genetically modified and must take a regimen of pills or something bad will happen. The assassins all regularly visit a lab where a bunch of scientists run tests and study the results of the gene modifications. So when Byer issues the termination order, it means killing everyone involved in the program (below management, of course), no matter how little they know. This includes all of the assassins and the scientists, but makes zero sense. Why destroy a bunch of people who WANT to be in the program? Why kill a bunch of scientists who know nothing, including the names of the assassins (they refer to them by numbers)? Regardless of how illogical this is, it happens, and we are left with just Cross and one scientist, Dr. Shearing (Rachel Weisz). And you pretty much know what happens from there. RUN!
Where Bourne was trying to figure out who he was and where he came from, while trying not to get killed, Cross has to obtain more of the drugs or he will…uh…something bad will happen. For the rest of the film, he and Shearing are racing for their lives, as well as to get the drugs that he needs. Unfortunately, this is the entirety of the last two thirds of the film and simply doesn’t grip the audience like the other Bourne movies. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the story is just a rehash of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The second, and more important, is that Cross is grossly underdeveloped. With Bourne, we get a sympathetic character with multiple facets. He’s an assassin who doesn’t want to be an assassin anymore, who just wants to be left alone, who only wants to know his past so he can come to peace with it. Cross is an assassin who needs his pills. It’s a little hard to get behind a character who comes off only slightly better than a heroin addict.
On the plus side, Weisz is as good as ever. Her character seems to be the only one who might actually die (we’re never concerned about Cross dying; at least Bourne came close in each film) and every emotion seems genuine. Renner is pretty good as well, though hamstrung by the lack of depth given Cross. Norton also turns a good performance, though his character’s anger seems more likely to be Norton emoting frustration that his Byer is just Strathairn’s Noah Vosen with a different face. Rounding out the cast, they sure inserted a lot cameos from past characters.
By the time the film was complete, I can say that I was mostly entertained. The action was good, though took far too long to fail at character and story development. The science is typical movie nonsense and only gets less believable as they attempt to explain it to us (they’ll use terms like ‘viral out’ that are silly at best). But mostly, the film suffers from a lack of creativity or humanity. It’s mostly just killing, running, chasing, and attempted killing. I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t Bourne’s legacy, but more like Bourne’s redundancy – without the human element for us to care about.
Rating: Ask for four dollars back. Weisz saves this film from being worth two dollars…and that’s not just my own personal bias for her.