RELEASE DATE: 16/08/2012
RUN TIME: 2HR 15MIN
‘The Bourne Legacy’ is the fourth instalment in the series based on the novels of espionage luminary, Robert Ludlum, and canonically follows on from the Damon-helmed ‘Identity’, ‘Supremacy’, and ‘Ultimatum’. The previous series, unrelated to ‘Legacy’ in its central character but linked through its world and events, is one of the few examples of a trilogy benefiting from a case of increasing returns. Each film successfully built upon the foundations of the last, culminating in the triumphant ‘Ultimatum’ – not only an explosively fitting conclusion to a rich, satisfying cinematic narrative, but quite frankly the definitive espionage-action film for the post-Bond age.
‘Legacy’ is sat parallel to ‘Ultimatum’, beginning with the assassination of Simon Ross (Bourne’s journalist contact in the Guardian) and the potential exposure of Operation Treadstone. From this event, we follow the CIA’s extreme reaction (a kind of “extraordinary rendition” on its own agents), and how it affects another protagonist, one not so far removed – in terms of journey and circumstance – from Jason himself. Having Cross’ situation directly derive from Bourne’s actions in ‘Ultimatum’ is a nifty device, throwing the events of that film into dubious question. Bourne’s quest to expose the truth comes at a steeper price than previously shown in ‘Ultimatum’, and although absent from the film, he is, quite literally, responsible for the fight-and-flight scenario Cross finds himself unwittingly thrown into.
While a number of familiar faces from the Damon films pop up (Joan Allen and David Strathairn among them, in cameo roles or stock footage from the previous outings), the action is centred around fresh faces. Renner, as Cross, makes for an engaging leading man, a fast-talking and sardonic hero similar to Bourne in skill but differentiated by a strong personality. Weisz, as the doctor thrust into a life-or-death battle beyond her pay-grade, is given little more to do besides running and shouting, but she elevates her slim options and is always eminently watchable. Edward Norton appears as Eric Byer, the agent tasked with bringing Cross to ground, and he uses his pale, sickly demeanour to bring a reptilian quality to the echelons of CIA bureaucracy.
The cast is wasted on a script which is too slow in the beginning, limp in its momentum, and can’t escape becoming a rehash of plot-points from ‘The Bourne Identity’.
The powerful cast is wasted, however, on Tony Gilroy’s expository script (he co-wrote the previous trilogy), which is too slow in beginning, limp in its momentum, and can’t escape becoming a rehash of plot-points and events from ‘The Bourne Identity’. It’s bad enough when films steal ideas from other films – worse still to steal them from your own franchise (the film’s major set-piece, a parkour chase across the rooftops, is lifted straight from the last ‘Bourne’ outing). Gilroy also directs, somehow, and he does so with the poor clarity of a film-school student, displaying none of the control he exerted in ‘Michael Clayton’, moving his camera with little purpose or skill for visual storytelling. While Paul Greengrass’ ‘Bourne’ films won accolades for their editing (including an Oscar for ‘Ultimatum’), you’ll struggle at times to make sense of ‘Legacy’s’ action scenes, despite their infrequency. Worse still, the film is missing its entire third act; rarely has there been a more abrupt, narratively unsatisfying end to a film, not only of this kind, but ever.
While ‘The Bourne Identity’ sprung a coherent, organic trilogy from a simple spy-story told strongly and with purpose, the mechanics for future instalments behind ‘Legacy’ are both its greatest strength and most visible weakness. It demonstrates capably that the world of Bourne is rich enough to exist without its eponymous hero, but not, crucially, without the talent behind the camera.