From the opening scene of a silhouetted man floating in the water, The Bourne Legacy begs for comparisons to the first movie, The Bourne Identity (as well as its two sequels). Similarly, Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross fights to live up to Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne as the rogue government-programmed assassin du jour. Renner did a pretty good job, but as much as I was looking forward to a burst of energy for this franchise, Aaron Cross is no Jason Bourne, and this movie seems like a redo of the original Bourne movies rather than a bold new direction. There are many echoes to previous instalments: Rachel Weisz stands in for Franka Potente as the hapless woman who gets dragged along on the run, and the roadtrip. Edward Norton is the latest government executive charged with hunting down their rogue operative from a safe distance in his hectic office full of analysts, phones and monitors. It was nice to feel some of the familiar rhythms of the Bourne movies, but there definitely needed to be some new elements added to the formula.
Of course, even a rehashed Bourne story is more exciting than a lot of action movies these days. We start out with Cross in the Alaskan wilderness on a training exercise. He surprises his fellow operative by making it to the destination faster by taking the more dangerous option of scaling the mountain to reach it. Cross’s motivation is that he is running out of some precious medication that he’d been taking as part of “The Program” and he needs to restock. These “chems” are a new element to the franchise, since they mention (in one of those confusing and dull government agency arguments) that Jason Bourne was not on chems. Unbeknownst to Cross at the time, the latest agency to take over is not interested in helping its agents. Instead, it is trying to clean up a perceived mess by burning the entire program (with all its previously unknown branches) to the ground. Cross narrowly escapes with his life after drone planes are sent to destroy him. Similarly, Weisz’s character is a scientist who has been experimenting with human subjects, including Cross, as part of the program. She doesn’t know much of the details, but when the agency sets out to eliminate her colleagues and anyone else connected with the chems, she also barely escapes (a few times). Considering it’s the fourth in a series, this movie takes a very long time to set up the main story arc. For the first hour, we are treated mostly to Cross’s mountaineering, and many many of those government arguments, debates, discussions. The biggest flaw in Tony Gilroy’s direction of this movie has got to be the front-loading of those boring bureaucratic scenes with a ton of obscure “agency” dialogue. Characters talk about programs and organizations and who gets blamed and whose neck is on the line, etc. They are dull, and really drag down the movie when we really should be getting to know more about Cross. In The Bourne Identity, we spent most of the movie with Bourne, trying to recover his identity, and that hooked us in long before all the mind-numbing “Treadstone” discussions. Here we don’t know much about Cross (except he’s a bit of a talker), so we should have spent even more time with him, not with Norton’s character Byer and his many nameless subordinates.
“If the story didn’t live up, how about the action?”, you ask. Well, there were a lot of good fight scenes (one even involving a wolf) and Cross can take out a group of armed men in the blink of an eye, but there was not as much of the crazy inventiveness that was Bourne’s trademark. There were no magazines or books used to kill anyone. That was disappointing because one of the chems was supposed to make Cross more intelligent, so where were the clever solutions? From a movie perspective, there was a cool scene of Cross jumping from the roof down a sliver-thin alley to rescue Weisz’s character Dr. Marta Shearing. There was also a scene where the bad guy was forced into a nasty motorcycle accident that had the audience gasping (but that was actually not Cross but Shearing’s doing). The climax of the movie was an extended motorcycle chase through the streets of Manilla, which went a long way to prove the crazy traffic that the city is known for (which wasn’t helped by these bike stunts, I’m sure). It was serviceable, but not the most thrilling scene I’ve experienced (and it was a bit too long).
While on the run, Cross and Shearing form a bond, and the subtle Hollywood screenwriters would like us to think it’s leading to more. In the same way, the audience is meant to want to see more of these adventures. I don’t mind Renner/Cross as the successor to Jason Bourne, but he has none of the drive or desperation that made Bourne compelling. (If filmmakers decide to motivate Cross by having him shack up with Shearing, then having her murdered by another assassin at the start of the next movie, I think I will have to take a rolled-up magazine to someone myself!) As I mentioned, the best parts of this movie were well done, but those were the same parts that felt like reheated Bourne. Maybe it will take another sequel for “The Cross Legacy” to branch off on its own. In the original three Bourne movies (including the third/final one), the exit-theme music triggered an almost Pavlovian response in me. I couldn’t wait for the next movie. This film again ended with a remix of Moby’s “Extreme Ways”, but unfortunately, all I felt was that I’d had enough. (4 out of 5)