The original Bourne trilogy, starring Matt Damon as a CIA super assassin gone off the grid, avoided sequel fatigue and reached a smashing finale with 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum.
But there’s more. Damon’s Jason Bourne was the beginning of the beginning. The series finds a new, chemically enhanced protagonist in Aaron Cross, a former U.S. Army enlisted man who’s part of a Dept. of Defense program that places intelligence agents in high-risk, high-reward, long-term assignments throughout the world.
The Bourne Legacy reveals that Bourne and the CIA program from which he escaped, Treadstone, are pieces of a suite of similar programs.
Jeremy Renner, best known as the IED-defusing daredevil in 2008’s Iraq War-set Hurt Locker, doesn’t miss a beat as he steps into Bourne’s shoes. As piercingly focused and effective as Damon is in his three Bourne movies, he’s not missed in The Bourne Legacy. There’s no time to miss him.
Renner’s Cross is one of a handful of agents in a program called Outcome. Eric Byer, a ruthless former U.S. Air Force colonel played by Edward Norton, overseas Outcome and its related programs. He’ll spare no one to protect his scientific assets. It’s the classic argument about the end justifying the means, no matter how many innocent men and women die at the hands of their own government.
Tony Gilroy, a screenwriter for the first three Bourne movies and the Oscar-nominated writer-director of 2007’s George Clooney drama, Michael Clayton, co-wrote and directed The Bourne Legacy. He knows the super-secretive Bourne universe, originally created by novelist Robert Ludlum, and its sanctioned amorality and betrayal. More importantly, Gilroy can tell a story.
Returning Bourne series cast members Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn show up in The Bourne Legacy, but a new group of actors does most of the work. Joining Renner’s Outcome agent on the run, British actress Rachel Weisz co-stars as a Treadstone- and Outcome-employed scientist who joins Cross in his action-filled sprint to escape termination.
Weisz’s Dr. Marta Shearing gives writer-director Gilroy and his co-writer and brother, Dan Gilroy, opportunity to explore the moral questions behind scientific advancement. When Cross puts Shearing on the spot, she argues in favor of her work with conviction. She also pleads ignorance about the program’s real-world consequences.
There’s a heavy element of selfishness in Shearing’s rationalizing. Norton’s soulless Byer, on the other hand, comes off as vastly more selfish and destructive.
Byer is the movie’s Pontius Pilate, a man who consciously orders death, operating from his pragmatic perspective.
The Bourne Legacy addresses its science versus morality questions even as it is intensely busy being a firecracker of an action picture.
Cross’ race against death produces engaging suspense and virtuoso action sequences, especially chase scenes that may as well be called hunting scenes.
When Byer wants people dead, he can set everything from remote-controlled aerial drones to additional chemically enhanced warrior programs in motion. Not even Byer’s high-level associates are aware of the latter.
In The Bourne Legacy, these various government, military and private sector collaborations suggest more than ever that the scientists, officials and civilians behind the programs are in the business of creating super-advanced Frankenstein monsters for the 21st century.
But like Dr. Frankenstein’s low-tech monster, Cross has an instinct for self-preservation. He’s also smart enough to suspect when he’s not wanted anymore.
Some luck plus the enhanced physical skills and intelligence Cross’ makers gave him make The Bourne Legacy an action-picture with brains.