Matt Damon will be glad to have escaped from the Bourne franchise after its apparent heart-pounding, globe-trotting finale Ultimatum back in 2007. Damon said himself that he felt the ideas of identity and amnesia had been excavated in the trilogy. The writer of the first three instalments, Tony Gilroy, takes the helm of belated fourth offering The Bourne Legacy (2012), presumably to add to his own legacy to the series. He leaves traces of Damon’s character and the familiar CIA hush-hush in a new adventure involving Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a participant in Treadstone’s bastard cousin, Outcome.
When word gets out that the directors of both projects are pals, given the brouhaha surrounding Treadstone, the decision is made to terminate Outcome. The agents in the field are tricked into changing their performance-enhancing medication, oblivious to the fact that their new pills are poison. Naturally, Cross survives and becomes embroiled in a flee mission with virologist, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Once again, the CIA is on the prowl, as Cross and Shearing are the last two pieces of evidence to Outcome’s existence. Their escape takes them to Manila where the medication is produced and Shearing weans Cross off the ‘chems’ with an instant viral treatment.
Along the way however, they do the usual rounds: forge passports, take part in week long car chases, engage in some afternoon parkour and inevitably fall in love. Most troubling of all is a new enemy available towards the back end of the film who pops up to take the pair down. He’s an asset linked with yet another CIA directive, a kind of super-agent who’s on a course of medication that produces ‘minimised empathy’. The first hour of The Bourne Legacy’s construction is shambolic, swollen with counterplots, subplots and flashbacks, all of which confuse the main arc of the film rather than clarifying or adding depth.
Every character seems to have a secret agenda as if wrestling to be the centre of attention, which makes for a film in which everybody is simply morally just or corrupt. There are no moral quandaries here, the kind endured by Pam Landy throughout the trilogy which actually added layers to the characterisation. As a result, Legacy basically becomes one big distraction, pushing a variety of weak storylines in an attempt to give itself meaning – a franchise appendage akin to Die Hard 4.0 (2007). And they’ve piled on the DEFCON lingo for extra trendiness; people handle situations from ‘crisis suites’ while D-TRAC teams infiltrate targets.
There are some interesting ideas; Renner’s character seeks out the programme after he is brutalised from modern warfare and to perhaps rediscover a sense of patriotism. Whereas Jason Bourne’s reasons are more transparent, Cross’ are quite grounded. It’s a true shame then that Renner’s character is desperately underwritten. The Bourne Legacy is obviously concerned about not repeating what occurred in the trilogy; if Gilroy had just considered Cross’ character more thoroughly, the novelty would have come naturally.