Fourth in the series of the excellent Bourne films, The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy) sees a new direction for the series, focusing on a new character, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), in place of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, who refused to return to the franchise without the involvement of Paul Greengrass who directed the previous two entries. Gilroy seems like an obvious choice to direct, given his involvement as screenwriter on the previous three films, and he doesn't disappoint here, departing from the docu-realist aesthetic so well implemented by Greengrass, and making it his own. The cinematography is lean, stylish and efficient, and while it occasionally gets mangled in over-edited action sequences, almost every scene is gripping, visceral and effective in the ways that the other films at their best were.
Gilroy doesn't mess with the formula of the franchise, sticking closely to the spy-on-the-run dynamic, as Renner's agent is hunted by the CIA in parallel with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). When Bourne exposes Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) sets about terminating the “assets” from Operation Outcome, forcing Cross and Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) - a medical doctor who specialises in behavioural conditioning - into exile, seeking out a supply of drugs which will allow Cross to retain his superhuman physical and mental abilities. While in most films these blue and green “chems” would be a detail in a larger narrative, it is here used as the main driving force of the action, the exploration of which seems artificially stretched out and ultimately inconsequential. While Bourne lived for others as well as himself, Cross' only objective is his own survival, with only a romantic sub-plot - so staggeringly undercooked that it barely registers - to serve as a meaningful human connection. While Bourne struggled to find out who he was and come to terms with what that meant, Cross knows who he is and merely wants to endure; a much less compelling dynamic. There's no arc or realisation for Cross, and so he fails to be an altogether engaging character.
The plot moves at a leisurely pace with plenty of room for the exposition to breathe and the characters to feel organic, but the film really loses its shape in the final act. Clocking in at 135 minutes, the film starts to drag thanks largely to an interminably tedious chase-sequence through the streets of Manila, only to be capped off with a damp squib of an ending which only serves to illustrate how meaningless the stakes were to begin with. It's perhaps telling that The Bourne Legacy is the first of the franchise to depart entirely from the source material of the novels (having exhausted Robert Ludlum's original trilogy), and it may be for this reason that Gilroy has found less success in expanding the universe of the Bourne franchise with this new entry. While it's a largely proficient piece of filmmaking, an engaging thriller and a enjoyable digression from the Bourne universe, the film ultimately fails to display its own sense of purpose, or the heart to make it truly meaningful.
By Ryan Hogan. Also posted on Creative Eye