The legacy part of Tony Gilroy’s “The Bourne Legacy”—the new extension of the Robert Ludlum-based spy franchise—is forced and unnecessary. Throughout the film you get quick status updates on Jason Bourne. Someone mentions he was in Moscow recently, there’s a news report that he’s been involved in a shooting in New York, that sort of thing. Without actually appearing in the film, his presence looms large. You know it’s there to bind this installment to its predecessors, and once or twice would be fine, but this pattern persists. And it doesn’t stop at Bourne. Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), and more characters from the series, pop up for quick moments, for no other reason than to remind you that this is a “Bourne” movie.
The problem is that while Gilroy, who wrote the script with his brother Dan, tries to make you remember the previous films, these attempts take you out of this movie. After the initial few passes, each additional occurrence kills the pace and completely pulls you out of the action. A jarring, bumpy strategy, this doesn’t add to the movie at all; it builds to nothing, achieves nothing, and delivers nothing.
Scattered is the best way to describe “The Bourne Legacy”. You start out jumping around the globe in quick bursts. You’re in the remote Alaskan wilderness, you’re in a meeting room in Washington D.C., you’re in a lab, you’re in an office. “Legacy” bounces you around so much that the titles at the bottom of the screen that tell you where you are in the world become meaningless. A series of rapid-fire, jargon-heavy scenes is a tough way to enter a film.
Eventually the focus comes to rest on three main pieces of the puzzle. There’s Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a genetically enhanced operative; Eric Bayer (Edward Norton), a vague sort of CIA spook who appears to have almost unlimited power; and Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a government geneticist. Cross is part of an Agency program called Outcome. Bayer burns Outcome to the ground, killing off all of the agents as he goes. In order to find out why, and avoid the same fate, Cross enlists the help of Dr. Shearing. When you cut through all the superfluous subplots, the unnecessary rhetoric, and the needless twists, this is the plot.
Renner does a passable job carrying an action movie with surprisingly little action, a thriller with a noticeable lack of tension. While Jason Bourne is a blank slate on a voyage of self-discovery, Aaron Cross knows exactly where he came from, and will do anything to avoid going back. Through the use of various “chems” the government enhanced Cross’ mind and body, and without the pills he will revert to his previous, less than spectacular, mental state. For a movie that gets so technically specific at times that the dialogue might as well be another language, the drugs are simply referred to as “blues” and “greens”. Cross has seen what he can be with this pharmaceutical aid, but also knows just how far he will fall without them.
“Legacy” takes too long getting to the point, as a whole and within individual scenes. With a runtime of 135 minutes, there is a lot of fat. A scene where Shearing gets interrogated is so frustrating and repetitive that you want to pull out your hair, but once you finally gets where you’re going, things pick up. The whole movie moves in this manner, in a continual series of ups and downs. When you’re with Cross the scenes are quick and exciting, even when not action packed. That’s where “Legacy” is at the top of its game. He’s interesting, the rest of the movie not so much. Weisz has one note, which is frantic, and other than a throwaway line about being “a patriot”, Norton has no motivation and only exists to be devious and contrary to Cross. He’s an empty villain. If Gilroy simply stuck with Cross instead of trying to show the story from every vantage point, this would have been a much better movie.
The maddening thing about “The Bourne Legacy” is that there are flashes of incredible potential. When the movie finally gets around to the action scenes, they’re exactly what you hoped they would be given the “Bourne” pedigree. Fistfights are full of bone-crunching violence, Cross uses a bunch of sneaky tactics to get the upper hand in a gun battle, and the climactic chase through the streets of Manila is an insane spectacle.
“The Bourne Legacy” is decent movie despite some monstrous problems with the narrative. A cynical sense of humor and a handful of kickass scenes should be enough to carry action fans through. Ultimately, however, it’s a piece rather than a complete movie, an obvious staging ground for more films—there are a number of possible paths to follow. An abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion leaves you hanging like an episodic TV show that will pick up next week. Even though it is solid, you walk away from “The Bourne Legacy” wondering if this is a strong enough film to support an ongoing franchise. I’m not sure it can.