Hey remember 2002? Everyone was getting sick of Jimmy Bond and we needed an antidote. This came in the form of Doug Liman’s refreshing take on the Robert Ludlum series of Jason Bourne books. A radical change in pace from Matt Damon and the addition of Paul Greengrass for two sequels led to the decade’s defining action films which went on to reshape MGM’s latter Bond films.
The original Bourne series felt like a perfect trilogy, but with Hollywood being Hollywood, they figured they could squeeze another film out of the saga even without the participation of their lead actor and director. For The Bourne Legacy screenwriter Tony Gilroy is promoted to director and Jeremy Renner has been brought in to play Aaron Cross, one of the Department of Defense’s Operation Outcome agents. Renner’s own real-world agent deserves a serious bonus for getting his client into three of the biggest movie franchises going, all on the back of his performance in The Hurt Locker – Mission Impossible IV, The Avengers and now the Bourne series. Expect him to be announced as the next Batman soon.
The film takes place simultaneously with the action of the final part of the Greengrass/Damon trilogy The Bourne Ultimatum. This is quite a clever move as it avoids having to do a full plot setup by hitching our new story on to a some other fully developed characters, but does mean new viewers may be a little lost at the glimpses of Paddy Considine and David Straitharn.
While all that is taking place in the background, a new scandal is brewing. If this went public it would expose the DoD’s program that created these juiced-up “super agents”. This means that Outcome’s other “assets”, along with the scientists that developed their genome modification, must be killed. Everyone is offed except for Renner’s Agent Cross and the scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (played by the lovely Rachel Weisz) who are forced to team up and go on the run together.
Whereas answers and retribution drove Bourne, Cross is an addict and really just wants his “chems” – the blue and green pills that the DoD cooked up to take the agents to the proverbial next level. When he learns that Shearing can wean him off the drugs while still retaining his enhanced mental and physical abilities, there really is nothing that can stand in his way. The rather simple goal of a permanent fix and keeping out of sight of the powers that want them both dead are the only two things that push Cross and Shearing to stay fighting.
Once everything has been set up in the first twenty minutes, the plot moves along at a tremendous pace considering its overlong running time, these leaves no time for audience reflection on whether we ever needed a new Bourne film or if this new one even makes all that much sense. Instead there are a series of shoot-outs, chases and hand-to-hand fights that are fit to sit alongside the best of the series. The Bourne trademark parkour-style chase across an exotic set of rooftops is present and correct and enhanced by the addition of a super-super-agent. This guy doesn’t get any lines and reminds you more of the T1000 from Terminator II than of Bourne and Cross, two men who have been built to withstand unrelenting physical and mental pressure but still retain a human edge.
Weisz’s performance will probably surprise a lot of people as we haven’t seen her in an action role since 2005’s Constantine and she proves herself a more than capable running buddy for Renner. Back at Langley, Ed Norton leads a troop of men who do a fine job of looking stressed in front of video screens.
The Bourne films have always been about the leading man and The Bourne Legacy is no different with Renner proving a more than capable successor to Damon. He is a joy to watch whether it’s in Alaska, Virginia or the Philippines and you even start to question if he’s better than Matt Damon – sacre bleu!
Ultimately the film won’t stand up to the same scrutiny or repeated-viewing as its illustrious predecessors but in a summer of bloated, over-the-top epics it’s a real relief to see a stream-lined film that is comfortable in its own skin as a pretty straight-forward story of a man and a woman on the run.
USA / Directed By: Tony Gilroy / Written By: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy / Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton / 135min / Action / Release: 10th August 2012 (US/Canada), August 13th 2012 (UK/Ireland)