The Bourne Legacy faced a rather daunting challenge. How do you make a Bourne movie without the titular character? The answer is a marvel of story construction, a side narrative that takes place at the same time as the last movie, picking up threads of story that we didn’t even know were there. It can feel a little strained, but overall the film finds enough merit to stand on its own as an entertaining piece of cinema. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the previous movies, it indicates a promising future once the characters leave the fringes of the story.
The movie takes place during the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. The exposure of Operation Blackbriar forces the conspirators to shut down all their running programs. They set out to dispose all the agents of the more advanced Project Outcome. Unfortunately for them, one of Outcome’s participants, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), manages to avoid assassination. Running low on the drugs that keep him at his heightened state, he rescues Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor who worked on the program, from being killed off. Running out of time, the two travel to the other side of the world to find a more permanent solution to Aaron’s problems.
The film scales down the franchise formula to a remarkable degree. While the other movies involved dismantling a grand conspiracy, this one is mostly about a guy trying to get some pills. It’s pretty clever, though. The movie reveals new sides to the overall Bourne story without really changing anything. It also makes quite a few daring storytelling choices. There’s very little handholding, the film fully expecting the viewer to be familiar with the mythos of the franchise. In the same way, exposition is meted out very gradually. There are flashbacks to fill in some of the gaps, but for the most part, the film is happy to let the audience figure it out.
Some of the plot elements feel a little silly, and the characters don’t quite compare in depth to the previous players. But it all works well enough for the scale of the film. It’s driven by a seemingly inexhaustible will to progress, the plot constantly moving forward. The action is a little more reserved than in previous installments, except for a ridiculously dynamic third act chase sequence. The sequence is chopped up a bit too much, but it’s a remarkable sequence all the same. The movie makes Manila look pretty incredible, a mishmash of different environments that inexplicably exist in the same space. The chase barrels through the metropolis, and links all of the textures into one seamless (if geographically impossible) sequence.
Aaron Cross is a much thinner character than Jason Bourne. His arc is much simpler, and his main dramatic moments come off as a bit silly. Credit must go to Jeremy Renner for making the character seem much more compelling than written. He imbues the character with a sense of purpose, a palpable momentum that leads the story from one point to the next. Rachel Weisz equally deserves credit for filling the gaps in her character. The supporting cast offers up great performances as well from Edward Norton and Stacy Keach.
The Bourne Legacy doesn’t quite live up to the previous three movies. It’s really just a side story, and it can’t offer the stakes and the scale that the other movies did. Having said that, it’s quite cleverly made. This movie has accomplished a pretty strange thing: it filled in blanks that we didn’t even know were there, expanding the universe without changing the overall picture. Working within that particular limitation couldn’t have been easy. That the film didn’t end up being a complete disaster is an achievement in itself. That it turned out to completely watchable and at times thrilling is quite remarkable indeed.