Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is a deep-undercover agent who, as a result of the actions of Jason Bourne in the previous three films, suddenly finds himself the target of the very agency he once served.
What we thought:
The Bourne Legacy – or, as it may just as easily be called, Bourne Free, Bourne Without, or Seriously Where the Hell is Bourne – is one of the weirdest franchise films ever released cinematically.
We've had plenty of spin-offs before (Elektra, The Chronicles of Riddick) but they tend to, well, spin off in their own directions and have little to do with forwarding the plot of the originals. We've even seen spin-offs that have just about nothing to do at all with their originating films but these (the excruciating America Pie: Presents series) tend to go straight to DVD or video.
What we have with The Bourne Legacy is a franchise film that is simultaneously a follow-up, a spin-off and a holding pattern that seems designed purely to keep the franchise within the public consciousness until they can get Matt Damon to return to the role of Jason Bourne himself. The result is a film that seems designed to appeal to no one at all.
Bourne fans will need to check out The Bourne Legacy for its almost entirely disconnected sub-plots that are specifically included to inch the overall Bourne story forward a few relatively vital inches. Sadly, while they're grasping at these few bits of new information, they will also have to deal with a whole A-plot that is at best background detail, at worst a very pale rip-off of the original trilogy.
As a jumping-on point for new viewers though, it's even more fatally misjudged. Non-Bourne fans are presumably going to go into the new film hoping for a self-contained story that they can enjoy independently of the rest of the series. It's not an unreasonable expectation. The Bourne Legacy has been promoted as an entirely new chapter with a new star and a new story that may share the same world with the original trilogy but, since The Bourne Ultimatum was seen as such a perfect conclusion for Bourne's story, was sure to be allowed to stand on its own.
The end product is less of an accessible new direction and more a hopelessly convoluted mess that has neither a proper beginning, nor a satisfying end. There is a lot of dry spy-speak devoted almost entirely to events that happened in the original trilogy or, when they do get round to this film's threadbare plot itself, it is still talked about in the context of what happened in the Bourne films that actually featured Jason Bourne.
On the plus side, the fact that the plot of this film is so incredibly simplistic does mean that it is at least comprehensible in a general sense. That doesn't make it particularly compelling and it doesn't stop the endless references to the previous films from grating but "super spy gets hunted by former employers" is at least understandable. It's also the same plot as the endlessly superior Haywire, but it has enough trouble keeping up with its own predecessors that, at this point, it would be churlish to do anything but let it slide.
It's also undoubtedly true though that Legacy is at least solidly put together on a purely technical level. It's well shot and adequately acted, though Renner is no where near as good in his role as Matt Damon was in his – even if its not entirely his fault. Writer-director Tony Gilroy, whose experience as writer on the other Bourne films and as director on the rather remarkable Michael Clayton, does know how to put together some solidly suspenseful action scenes.
What Gilroy is significantly less successful with this time though – and this is especially strange considering how much this wasn't a problem in Michael Clayton – is in evoking any real emotion to go along with the frankly overly-technical spy stuff. That the storytelling in Legacy is weak is bad enough, but there really is no forgiving how thoroughly lacking it is in any real human emotion.
Take a look through the entirety of Gilroy's writing filmography and you see countless examples of films that at least tried to work off real human emotion and identifiable, often complex characters. Well, not so much in Armageddon, of course, but we'll just blame that on Michael Bay and leave it at that. Otherwise, whether its Michael Clayton, State of Play or The Devil's Advocate, he always came at these genre pieces with a fair amount of heart.
Similarly, the original Bourne trilogy's tendency to have stern-looking people in grey suits walking into rooms explaining the spy-jargon-heavy plots to each other was countered by the identity crisis of its titular protagonist. Even the inclusion of the typically wonderful Rachel Weisz to act as the film's human perspective never stops The Bourne Legacy from being cold, dreary and uninvolving.
It may not be entirely without redeeming features but with its total lack of heart, its reliance on previous movies and a non-ending to beat all non-endings, The Bourne Legacy is sure to leave all but the most forgiving of action-thriller fans bitterly disappointed.
Just as well we have a new Bond film around the corner to hopefully set things right again.