Advertising “The Bourne Legacy” with a heavy emphasis on its connection to the previous films in the series does the fourth installment a disservice, as the new hero proves he is more than just a replacement of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Following a long period of dispute after “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, both Damon and director Paul Greengrass removed themselves from the project, and “Legacy” continued, now helmed by Tony Gilroy, screenwriter for the first three films. Gilroy clearly understands what viewers expect from the franchise, and he delivers a blend of intricate, nuanced plot and breakneck action sequences that both fans of the series and newcomers will be able to appreciate. The introduction of new characters breathes life into the film and, although it takes a bit of time, viewers will eventually find themselves wholly invested in the original story.
Beginning where the 2007 film “The Bourne Ultimatum” left off, the fourth film in the “Bourne” series is a welcome departure from the previous trilogy. The focus is shifted from rogue agent Jason Bourne to agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who goes rogue himself after the government shuts down its black ops programs from a fear that information about them and Bourne will be leaked to the press and the public. As they begin to shut down the programs, Cross teams up with scientist Marta Shearing (played by Rachel Weisz) and the pair encounter all the action-genre staples that viewers have come to expect from the franchise while running from the film’s villains (played by David Strathairn and Edward Norton).
The film takes about an hour to get off the ground, and early on it is difficult to invest in the stakes of the central conflict. At the start, the development of the plot feels extremely slow, even as the action switches manically between three separate storylines. Lack of investment in Cross and Dr. Shearing’s stories is understandable when the viewers are more connected to the continuing Treadstone thread from the previous films, but the disengagement does not last long, and, by the first action sequence, Renner has proved that his character is just as engaging as Damon’s. Once the pacing of the story picks up and the focus is only split between two storylines, the film noticeably improves, and the natural chemistry between Renner and Weisz propels the film forward. Despite introducing new heroes and villains, the film isn’t overloaded with backstory, and the plot never feels overly complicated. There is clearly room for much more detail about the characters to emerge in later films if “Legacy” is successful, and the largest thing Cross has in common with Bourne is that viewers will undoubtedly want to know more about him.
“Legacy” contains the exotic locations and fast-paced action sequences characteristic of the “Bourne” films, and the visual style of the film is sharp and atmospheric. Renner is an excellent choice in a leading man, and his cocky self-assurance and rough charm contrasts very well with the memory of Damon’s vulnerability and cool desperation. Weisz shows off both her subtle emotionalism and her quick-witted physicality, and her character’s status as an outsider, with her own concerns and focus, adds refreshing interest to the usually bland role of “female companion.” The two stars have such well-matched acting styles that the relationship between the characters feels fresh and believable, and the film utilizes well-spent time developing the bond between them. At times the politics and the actions of the government can be difficult to fully understand, but Edward Norton plays the villain with the right blend of moral ambiguity and calm calculation necessary for viewers to easily understand the stakes, even if they aren’t familiar with the complexities of the secret government operations. That the action sequences are stylish and thrilling should go without saying, but there is a particular chase sequence that is so intense, it will leave viewers awed and breathless.
Despite a focus on completely new characters, “Legacy” is an original addition to the Bourne series that retains the best features of the previous films, while injecting new interest into the franchise. If viewers can overcome the slow introduction of the new characters, they will find an extremely interesting and thrilling film that is worthy of its place in the Bourne universe.