And it seemed like such a good idea…
Maybe we should have paid closer attention to the posters advertising The Bourne Legacy. In retrospect, they seem outright apologetic, limply defending themselves with the tag line “There was never just one…” They should have clarified by adding the word “Right?” As in, “Right? Right? We’re playing fair, guys. Come on, don’t look at us like that.”
But it’s hard to look at The Bourne Legacy any other way after actually watching the damned thing. With Matt Damon gone and Jason Bourne’s journey of self-discovery pretty much over and done with, it makes sense to continue the franchise with one of the many other behaviour-modified test subjects from the CIA’s top-secret program. What doesn’t make sense is transforming the whole Bourne franchise into the very kind of mindless, ridiculous nonsense that these movies managed to do away with in the first place. This was the series that brought intelligence and emotional impact back to the action genre, and now we’re stuck with this. The fact that The Bourne Legacy is also boring as hell and full of plot holes only manages to turn what could have been a merely silly film into one of the very worst of the year.
The action only picks up about halfway through the film. Before that we have to endure an opening that strands Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross, in the wilds of Alaska with no context and no motivation while a bunch of CIA bigwigs, including Ed Norton (who has almost nothing to do) and some familiar faces from the previous films, desperately try to clean house before Jason Bourne can blow the lid off their whole clandestine operation. Eventually, these jerkwads decide that the best way to keep their conspiracy secret is to kill every single super-soldier at their disposal using a seemingly foolproof system, namely replacing the test subjects’ super-soldier medication with a deadly poison. It’s all rather dull, to be honest, but it doesn’t get truly dumb until they decide for no good reason to blow Aaron Cross up from a remote location on the opposite coast instead of waiting three hours for him to get back to civilization where he would have had no opportunity to fake his own death and go on the lam. Which of course he does. Because his enemies are idiots.
But the thing about chase movies is, it doesn’t just matter what the hero is running from (in this case the CIA), it also matters what they’re running towards. In The Bourne Legacy, our hero’s motivation isn’t to reveal the massive conspiracy to the world, or even to uncover his own true identity before the government washed his brain. No, Aaron Cross’s goal is to get more of these little blue pills they’ve been giving him, because he’s actually borderline mentally handicapped and they make him super smart.
Oh yes, you read that correctly. Feel free to make your own Flowers for Algernon reference. Might I suggest Firepower for Algernon? Or perhaps Gunpowder for Algernon is more your speed. That works too. Either way, director Tony Gilroy – who has been writing the franchise since Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity, and also wrote and directed the Oscar-winning drama Michael Clayton – has taken the 21st century’s most grounded action series and transformed it into something almost comically broad. What’s worse, he’s made this particular film rather pointless.
The problem with this particular MacGuffin, besides the juxtaposition with the otherwise realistic earlier movies, is that The Bourne Legacy does absolutely nothing with it. The little blue pills force him to travel halfway around the world with biochemist Rachel Weisz in tow, but that’s literally the only function they have in the storyline, just to get him from Point A to Point B. He has just enough of these suckers to get him where he needs to go, and he never has to solve any of the film’s problems without their help. We have to take his need for this plot device entirely on faith, despite a brief flashback to his less cognizant days.
The obvious story development, which would have found Renner the mindless thug working with Weisz the intelligent but physically incapable heroine, might also have been silly but would have at least made the whole conceit feel integrated into the actual story. (And given us a young, sexy Master Blaster for the modern age.) Instead the only function that it serves is to move the characters around the playing field arbitrarily, keeping them at a distance from their true enemies in Washington, and forcing poor Ed Norton to say ridiculous lines of dialogue like, “He’s going to run out of brain.”
Putting aside the uninvolving finale, in which Norton reveals that they allowed one super soldier to live for no reason whatsoever, who happens to live right next to the exotic locale Renner and Weisz have traveled to, and who has no character to speak of, making his inclusion in the climactic motorcycle chase feel dunderheadedly token… Wait, where was I?
Oh right, perhaps the biggest issue with The Bourne Legacy is that it amounts to absolutely nothing. Like The Bourne Ultimatum, it takes place almost entirely during the previous film in the franchise, but unlike The Bourne Ultimatum it adds nothing to the overall story beyond the introduction of implausible Captain America-like super drugs. The conspiracy storyline goes nowhere we haven’t seen before, culminating pretty much right at the end of the previous film with only a single, solitary new story development which was pretty obvious from the get go. That thing that was going to happen? It didn’t go so well. Everything in The Bourne Legacy turns out to be completely inconsequential to the Bourne franchise except for a thirty second scene at the end which has nothing to do with Jeremy Renner whatsoever.
In his entire career, Ayrton Senna managed to spin fewer wheels than The Bourne Legacy does in just 135 minutes. This is a silly movie, an uninvolving experience, and what’s worse… it’s just kinda dull. There’s nothing to latch onto, no particular reason to care about the heroes, and with only a handful of adequate action sequences to its credit, it doesn’t even manage to capture the whizz-bang spirit of a typical, enjoyable, mindless summer blockbuster. If this is the legacy of the Bourne franchise, we're better off just forgetting all about it.