The national security fantasy tales of Robert Ludlum once again make their way to the big screen with The Bourne Legacy, the fourth flick in the series and the follow-up to The Bourne Ultimatum. This outing features a change in character and a change in the director’s chair, with Tony Gilroy stepping in for Paul Greengrass. Gilroy’s brother Dan penned the screenplay.
The Bourne Legacy takes its title from an Eric Van Lustbader-written novel in the series. Gilroy’s picture overlaps some of what happens in The Bourne Ultimatum, using the Jason Bourne narrative to kick off another narrative involving a different character. It is an evolution that makes sense to a point, but it also seems like an opportunistic and nearly pointless entry.
The film opens with Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) traipsing through Alaska. It turns out he is with Operation Outcome, a black ops operative on a training mission. He isn’t aware of the fact that the noose is tightening with other programs, like Treadstone and Blackbriar, have been blown wide open thanks to the activities of Jason Bourne.
A fleet of agents and operatives is tapped to neutralize the operatives in Operation Outcome, putting a target on Cross. He is particularly tracked by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who is in charge of the CIA’s secretive operations. Luckily for Cross, he’s able to connect with geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). She is able to lead him to another supply of “chems,” which apparently are essential for his continued genetic modification.
Much is made of the genetic components involved with the operatives, so there’s a lot of talk about “viralling off” and other forms of modifying or “improving” agents. This includes a disturbing lab shooting in which a chemically-brainwashed doctor (Željko Ivanek) goes bonkers and tries to eliminate his fellow doctors and researchers, further emphasizing the chemical-genetic connections involved with the program.
Despite these layers, The Bourne Legacy isn’t overly captivating. The action scenes, including the dénouement, are less than satisfying. Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit lack the energetic style of Greengrass’ pictures, moving the cameras instead in sweeping circles and setting up odd focal points that can take audiences right out of some of the chase sequences.
This especially becomes problematic during the concluding chase. Despite the fact that Byer has tagged in a supersoldier (Louis Ozawa Changchien), the impact doesn’t materialize and LARX-03 seems slight in contrast to what might have been. The chase, which involves some motorcycles and vehicles careening through the streets of Manila, not only comes off underwhelming but hard to follow because of Elswit’s feverish zooms and sweeps.
Along with the cinematography often diminishing the impact of the action, the movie’s sense of seriousness is laughable. When Cross battles a group of wolves and eventually wrestles one and jams a tracking device down its gullet, it’s hard not to snicker. Yet Gilroy handles this sort of thing with no humour, delivering a sequence that is ridiculous on its face with stone-faced gravity.
There’s also the issue of Weisz. Here, she’s a preposterous character of swinging histrionics and hysterics. In every instance that could’ve called for delicacy, Weisz goes well over the top and wails like a chaotic fanatic. Renner ironically struggles to produce much chemistry with her, even in the less hectic moments.
The Bourne Legacy is interesting enough, to a point, but the solemnity never meshes well with some truly silly moments. It’s an amusing film in the sense of a national security fantasy, the sort of political myth-making that deals in secret agents and shady programs, but the human element is drowned in procedural dialogue. There’s no character development and few people to care about, leaving behind a mass of action that doesn’t live up to the series’ previous entries.