The narrative architect behind the Bourne film series, Tony Gilroy, takes the helm in the next chapter of the hugely popular espionage franchise that has earned almost $1 billion at the global box office: THE BOURNE LEGACY. The writer/director expands the Bourne universe created by Robert Ludlum with an original story that introduces us to a new hero (Jeremy Renner) whose life-or-death stakes have been triggered by the events of the first three films. For The Bourne Legacy, Renner joins fellow series newcomers Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac, while franchise veterans Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn reprise their roles.
Nowhere near the debacle I assumed it would be (a BOURNE sequel without series star Matt Damon? Madness!), nowhere near as good as what came before, Tony Gilroy's THE BOURNE LEGACY is an entertaining but a weird little sequel/reboot/standalone/spin-off.
Let’s start with the weird first: LEGACY is pretty much a high octane adaptation of the Daniel Keyes novel "Flowers for Algernon". No, seriously, it is! Quit laughing! If you’re thinking this initial adventure (or possibly final, more on that in a second) with intelligence analyst William Brandt …er, Hawkeye …er, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is just going to be a rehashed Jason Bourne joint then you’d be wrong. Sort of.
There ARE nearly thirty minutes of pseudo-recycled footage from THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (“pseudo” meaning there’s new material featuring Edward Norton as a vicious CIA spook that’s been mixed in with previously seen plotlines like the murder of Simon Ross and the fall of Treadstone) peppered in with Cross’ training in the Alaskan wilderness (which consists of random spy sh*t like trying to buddy up to scene stealer Oscar Issac, punching wolves, one-on-one fights with unmanned drones, and diving naked into subzero water) so I can’t technically call you wrong, but for the most part, LEGACY does its own thing.
Cross’ training is cut short by Bourne's ULTIMATUM shenanigans resulting in Norton ordering the black ops program Outcome and all its agents shut down. And by shut down, I mean “retired”. And by “retired”, I mean a whole slew of spies attached to agencies that were never once mentioned in the previous three installments are shot, poisoned, stabbed, and blown up. You knew what I was talking about. Assassination. Let's not pretend like you've never seen a spy thriller before.
Here’s where “weird” and “Flowers for Algernon” come into play …Cross takes the assassination attempt well and, instead of seeking bloody Bourne-style revenge, heads out to score some "chems", little blue and green pills that boost his abilities and intelligence. Without them, Cross reverts back to being a below-average intelligence Army soldier who was "killed" during the Iraq War.
To prevent this from happening, Cross immediately tracks down his dealer …er, the doctor (Rachel Weisz) responsible for his periodic spy check-ups, discovers she's also been marked for death thanks to her involvement with Outcome, and offers his protection in exchange for “chems”. Ass-kicking, international intrigue, and yet another case of Stockholm Syndrome ensues.
You read that right: Cross is doping. Hardcore doping. Dude gets the shakes just at the thought of not having “chems”. Nearly 80% of his dialogue is about “chems”. All he wants is “chems”. He only rescues Marta (Weisz) because he thinks she has “chems”. Cross beats the living hell out of a slew of security guards, a few armed agents, and a highly trained assassin only because they get in way of him getting his hands on more “chems”. If you’re not picking up what I’m laying down …CHEMS!!! Get used to the word, people, because it is all over THE BOURNE LEGACY.
And there’s the problem. LEGACY is expertly acted, smartly written, and pretty exciting when it bothers mustering up an action sequence. But once the initial ULTIMATUM "side-quel" stuff is over and Cross takes center stage, everything becomes about "chems".
Don’t get me wrong, I dig the “Algernon” connect. I like the idea of an ordinary (or in Cross’ case, DUMB) guy becoming a badass super spy with a little LA FEMME NIKITA styled training and some magic pills. What I don’t like is this idea being the ENTIRE movie. “Chems” are not an acceptable replacement for Bourne’s amnesia and revenge and Gilroy should’ve known that.
Especially since once Cross (SPOILER ALERT!!!) figures out how to resolve the "chem" issue, the movie abruptly ends with him and Weisz heading off into the sunset to the sounds of Moby's "Extreme Ways". There's no set-up for a sequel. Cross got what he wanted and is now happy. There’s no revenge, no payoff, no payback. The movie ends as abruptly as the story did.
Jeremy Renner’s Cross is a solid replacement for Matt Damon’s Bourne ...if Universal opts to keep him in the lead. Considering how final the last moments of LEGACY are, I can’t help but think Uni has set up a roulette wheel of canon sequels that could feature different actors playing different spies till Damon decides to come back. Don’t be shocked if Renner doesn’t come back.
Rachel Weisz’s performance, despite it being an exact copy of one she delivered in the 1996 Keanu Reeves actioner CHAIN REACTION, is also solid. Edward Norton, Oscar Issac, Scott Glenn, and Stacy Keach were also solid. In case you’re not picking up what I’m laying down, all the performances in LEGACY are solid. Rock solid. You won’t find a dud performance in the entire film.
The action, while impressive and intense, was a little too light. Two major action set pieces (a Cross VS Unmanned Drone duel and an extended foot-motorcycle chase through the streets of Manilla) and a handful of shoot-outs/fistfights do not a blockbuster sequel make.
THE BOURNE LEGACY works …but just barely. The actors, dialogue, and few action scenes are top notch. The “chems” and standalone story are not. Take that as you will.