Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne trilogy (Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum) was a  fantastic spy saga following Matt Damon’s amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne as he attempted to work out who he was and break away from his background. The first film was a gripping thriller which turned Damon into a legitimate on screen badass, while the following instalments built on this success to create a powerhouse of paranoia and conspiracy, culminating to a satisfying conclusion which hinted that Bourne might finally be able to start living again and that the wrongdoers would be brought to justice. Everyone was happy.

So going back to the well was always going to be a challenge, especially as the franchise’s star and major character wouldn’t be along for the ride.

Here, set around the same time as the events of Ultimatum we see the CIA’s attempts to cover up a potential leak of the Treadstone programme, this being the project of genetic enhancement and behaviour modification that turned Bourne into a killing machine.

The agent in charge, Byer (Edward Norton) realizes that in order to cover their backs against a possible investigation they may have to completely dismantle the subsequent projects and get rid of pesky witnesses and evidence.

They do this by taking out the agents created by Outcome, the project that followed Treadstone. Among these is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a smart agent on a training operation in Alaska. Cross survives an attempt on his life, but witnesses “Number 3” (Oscar Isaac) a fellow agent die.

Cross is believed dead and heads South because the meds he recieves from the programme are beginning to run low. He tracks down Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who conducted his physicals during the programme and was the sole survivor of a shooting at the lab. The shooting is put down to a coworker suffering a psychotic break, but it appears that the government might want Shearing to still be eliminated.

Cross rescues her, having found her hoping that she will provide her with the meds he needs as he fears the withdrawals. She has none of the meds but agrees to help him find some while the agency attempts to track her down.

Can Cross figure out a way to free himself from his dependency on the meds? What will happen if he doesn’t get them? How long before the agency realises that Cross isn’t actually dead?

I really enjoyed this movie, largely due to the presence of Jeremy Renner as Cross. I’m a massive fan of Renner, who’s had a pretty good 2012 (having already appeared in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Recon and Avengers Assemble) and he’s on great form here.

Cross is a very different character to Bourne, mainly because Bourne’s past was shrouded in mystery and he struggled with this throughout the series. Cross knows who he is, and what he’s done and so his outlook is very different. He’s also a total badass.

In a way he’s easier to warm to as a character, Renner makes Cross a charming, surprisingly easy going character- he jokes and flirts and genuinely seems to be comfortable and confident. He’s chattier than Bourne, and the other agents he encounters here, and this serves him in good stead, bringing an odd sweetness to the hardened killer.

Renner- Badass

Its hinted that the programme has enhanced his intellegence and thought process, the term used is “elasticity” and Renner manages to get this across, Cross always seems to be planning a few moves ahead and there’s no awkwardness in the way he interacts with Shearing.

While he is supremely confident in action and rather smooth Renner also makes him extremely sympathetic.

Its hinted at and shown that prior to being recruited to Outcome Cross, or Kitson as he was then known, was a lost soul and not that bright, and there’s a sense that having been granted heightened intellegence Cross is terrified of returning to his former slow witted self. Its heartbreaking to see Kitson in flashback and it suggests that Cross stands to lose his entire sense of self along the way.

Cross despite his background appears to have a rebellious, questioning streak to his personality and there are hints that even before the Agency moved against him he had intentions to break away from them.

This seems to be Renner’s trademark- giving performances where he brings a certain muscular credibility to the action sequences while continuing to allow intellegence and emotional complexity come to the surface.

As his companion on his quest Rachel Weisz is superb, although, again, I’m a long standing fan of hers. Her character is well crafted, allowing her to show fragility after being shaken by the shootings, but still displaying a sense of intellegence and toughness. She argues back and shows real strength of will, and she proves to be a valuable ally to Cross.

Superb- Weisz as the cold, distant scientist.

But the best thing about the character is that she’s morally compromised as well, she has been examining the Outcome agents with cold scientific distance, and seems to have willfully blinded herself to the human aspect and what they might be being used for outside the lab. This means that unlike the love interest in The Bourne Identity, Shearing isn’t entirely an innocent.

As the film progresses and a connection forms between the two characters Weisz shows us that despite being out of her depth Shearing is still resourceful and not just a damsel in distress, as well as allowing us to see Shearing begin to question and feel guilt over her work.

The rest of the cast are good, with the CIA spooks oozing sleazy menace and Edward Norton as the main antagonist does great work.

Norton is an authorative presence, barking orders and taking charge of situations. Like Rennner, Norton is one of those actors who can convey that his character is smart and not to be trifled with in small, slight moments throughout the film.

But there are shades of grey and I found myself during some of the flashbacks thinking that Byer seemed more remorseful than some of his colleagues, and we saw that he had a preexisting relationship with Cross. In one great scene which shows them talking following a mission gone awry Byers seeks to comfort Cross while also explaining that sometimes the ends justify the means.

Renner and Norton

Norton makes Byer come across as a ruthless, driven and commited individual who believes that what he does is right, making him a strong antagonist.

The whole film is extremely well put together, Tony Gilroy wrote the previous instalments and here takes over directing as well. He does a fantastic job crafting a great story, he interlocks the film with events from Ultimatum, and also addresses the fallout from those events, including showing us what became of Pam Landry (Joan Allen) who at the end of the previous instalment had formed an alliance with Bourne and appeared to be moving towards bringing Treadstone to justice.

It serves to show just how ruthless and commited the CIA are to covering their tracks and leaves the door open for sequels, and ground this film within the universe.

In terms of direction, Gilroy follows the pattern set down by previous directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass- the action sequences are fast paced, shaky cam affairs. The fights have the same, close quarters, fast and brutal quality, and Renner handles all of them very well.

There’s also a frantic chase sequence which works extremely well, piling on thrills and spills and leaving you clinging to the edge of your seat.

All in all a success, Renner is great in the lead and it keeps the tone of the previous films. While it doesn’t match the other films its still an above average espionage thriller and has several fantastic sequences.

I’ll be interested to see where they go next and how they develop the Cross character and whether we may eventually see a Bourne-Cross tag team/showdown.

Verdict: While not quite up there with the previous instalments it is a very finely crafted thriller. The action sequences are sensational and there’s the familiar sense of conspiracy and paranoia. Its helped by great performances from Norton and Weisz, and a powerhouse lead performance from Renner, who is a charismatic, credible action hero. 8/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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