“The Bourne Legacy” is a prime example of a sleeping movie franchise that should have been left to lie undisturbed. It’s now clear that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass knew what they were doing when they decided 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” would be their ultimate “Bourne” collaboration. Call it a trilogy and call it a day.
(Since then, Damon has apparently had a change of heart and has allowed as how he wouldn’t mind making another one, but only if Greengrass is willing to return to the director’s chair.)
However, it was also clear that with a combined worldwide box-office take of close to $1 billion for “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” Hollywood felt it just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The buck-raking must go on.
And so Tony Gilroy, who wrote all three previous “Bournes,” was hired to come up with a new iteration, retaining the Bourne name in the title but writing him out of the story. A tricky business, that. Gilroy’s solution, developed in partnership his screenwriter brother Dan Gilroy, was to invent a super-duper hypersecret spy agency way more ruthless and vastly more technoid than the CIA, which trained and unleashed assassin Jason Bourne. In the employ of said agency is one Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who, we’re given to understand, is an agent even more super-duper than our man Bourne – sort of a T-1000 to Bourne’s Terminator.
With Gilroy in the director’s chair, the events in “Legacy” overlap with the goings-on in “Ultimatum,” with characters from that picture played by Joan Allen, Scott Glenn and David Strathairn making fleeting appearances. The main men (and one woman) in “Legacy” are played by Edward Norton, as a nasty spymaster in the barking bureaucrat mode of Strathairn’s character in “Ultimatum,” Stacy Keach as Norton’s baleful boss (like Glenn, but even meaner), and Rachel Weisz playing a scientist who’s helped develop performance-enhancing drugs that are the key to Cross’ extreme abilities. Right there, you have the picture’s Achilles’ heel.
The Damon “Bournes” are all about the amnesiac assassin’s desperate search for clues to his identity. “Legacy” is all about Cross’ desperate search for drugs. And that’s not nearly the same thing when it comes to engaging the sympathies of an audience.
Without his blue and green pills, Cross will suffer a total mental meltdown. When his handlers decide to deep-six the secret program he’s part of, and kill all agents like him, well, then, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Which is to find Weisz, save her hide from armies of killers, and persuade her to brew up a new batch of his meds.
Greengrass/Damon “Bourne” films are masterpieces of taut pacing and explosive action. Gilroy’s picture, by contrast, drags. It’s slowed by too many expository scenes where characters explain the science of how the drugs were developed (Complicated!) or the bureaucratic intricacies of the spy business (Tedious!). And its car chases and punch-outs all feel like retreads of scenes from the earlier movies.
Worse yet, Renner cuts a far less engaging figure than Damon. Damon’s Bourne, though a killer, has a certain innocence and is tormented by his conscience. Renner’s Cross is tough and one-dimensional. In the humanity department, he’s deficient. ‘The Bourne Legacy’
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Stacy Keach
Director: Tony Gilroy
Running time: 2:15
Rated: PG-13; violence, language