Hollywood really loves name recognition. They are absolutely convinced that selling you a movie tangentially connected to franchise you’ve already heard of is a safer and better alternative to actually coming up with an original idea.
That’s the only possible explanation for The Bourne Legacy – a Jason Bourne movie that doesn’t actually have Jason Bourne in it.
I suppose its to their credit they didn’t completely reboot the franchise when Matt Damon dropped out of doing a fourth film. (Though that was mainly in the hope that they will eventually be able to woo Damon back somewhere down the road.) So instead of recasting Jason Bourne, the powers that be at Universal have decided to give us a story taking place in Bourne’s world featuring a new superspy named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).
It’s a bit of a tough sell, but under the right circumstances it could have worked. With the right actor and the right storyline, they could have served up a film that felt worthy of the Bourne universe and spawned a new franchise with the protagonist. Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy isn’t that film. Aaron Cross comes off as a poor substitute for Jason Bourne and the movie ultimately feels more like a glorified piece of fan fiction than an equal to the three films that came before it.
The main issue is with the way Cross is depicted. The dynamic that made the original trilogy work is that while Bourne was a charismatic and incredibly capable spy, he was looking for a way out of the business. A convenient case of Hollywood amnesia gave Jason Bourne a clean slate, which he used to shun his former life and start over. All he wanted was live off the grid quietly with the girl he loved and, when presented with an opportunity, to make amends for the wrongs he had committed in his former life.
Cross, unfortunately, is a much less dynamic and intriguing character. He doesn’t seem to have any qualms with being a spy and, if not interrupted, he seems like he would be fine continuing to shoot first and ask question later. He becomes collateral damage in the Jason Bourne saga after Bourne outs the CIA’s secret programs and the agency decides to cut their losses, killing off all agents connected with Treadstone, Blackbriar or any of their other black ops teams. Cross manages to survive his assassination attempt, which is why he finds himself at odds with the agency.
But instead of taking the opportunity to make amends or to start over, all Cross wants to do is track down the medication that will allow him to keep being genetically superior to everyone else. It turns out that Cross and his cohorts have all been genetically altered to be stronger and smarter than your average Joe, so long as they continue to take a blue pill and a green pill everyday. Cross decides he doesn’t want to go back to his former life of mediocrity, so he enlists the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), one of the researchers responsible for his genetic enhancements, to score the drugs he needs.
I’m not saying that Cross needs to be as noble as Bourne for the film to work. If they wanted to make him more of an antihero or simply someone pushed too far, that would have been fine. But the character as a whole is unfortunately too bland to work and his backstory and motivation only make things worse. Besides wanting to be a kick ass spy, Cross doesn’t really have any definable characteristics. His desire to keep being a superspy is his only motivation in the film and outside of that the audience never really learns who he is or why they should care about him. Renner is a compelling actor, especially when he’s given a complex and somewhat unsavory character like in The Hurt Locker or The Town. But here he comes across as completely vanilla. He’s given a poorly-conceived and bland character that he isn’t able to inject any added life or nuance into.
Making matter worse, he has no chemistry whatsoever with Rachel Weisz. She is the defacto love interest in the film, but the two don’t even really seem to like each other very much. Most of their scenes together seem strained. And unfortunately, her character isn’t really any more compelling or well-rounded than his is.
The film does have a few great action scenes in it though. Cross and Shearing’s first encounter at her cabin in the woods is a wonderfully tense and action packed sequence. There are also a few fun car chases and pursuit scenes. Director Tony Gilroy does his best to recreate the frantic pace and shaky visual style of Paul Greengrass, which he is a bit hit-or-miss with overall, but when it works, it works well. The action scenes as a whole aren’t quite as clever or as well-conceived as the ones in the original Bourne films, but for the most part they work.
Still, all in all it’s a poor substitute for a Jason Bourne film. Though there are a few flashes here and there that show what this film could have been, it pales in comparison to what came before it. Aaron Cross is not Jason Bourne and this film is not a worthy successor to the previous trilogy. I recommend waiting for this film to come out on DVD or on cable. Hopefully, if it doesn’t do well at the box office, we’ll get the real Jason Bourne back on our screens soon.