It’s safe to say that this summer’s blockbuster fare mostly consisted of stylistically varied superheroes. Joss Whedon opened the season with the record-breaking The Avengers. Combining characters from The Incredible Hulk (though recast) Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, the snarky popcorn flick raked in the fun in Marvel’s ultimate mash-up. The Amazing Spider-Man brought a hip, youthful reboot from 500 Days of Summer’s Marc Webb and the indisputable chemistry between two actors to keep a sharp eye on, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. And of course, Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy came to a close only a few weeks ago, to both critical praise and inevitable trilogy disappointment.
With the major superheroes wrapped up, August action film releases were looking a bit dry. Though The Bourne Legacy has all the trappings of a summer hit, it’s difficult to ignore the elephant in the room. How do you continue the Bourne series without Jason Bourne?
The short answer is, you don’t. Recasting Matt Damon would be a death sentence after the acclaim of the first three films. Not only does Damon embody the tortured conscious of an amnesiac government assassin gone rogue, but the movies themselves touched high art, as action flicks go. Directors Doug (The Bourne Identity) Liman and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) packed knuckle-breaking stunts into the franchise hailed for its realism in a world of green screen and CGI.
Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum were all shot on-location in cities like Prague, Rome, Mykonos, Zurich, Munich, Moscow, and Madrid. The intricately woven stories of CIA and government conspiracy, spies with behavioral modification, and murder mysteries were all based off Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. If that weren’t enough, Damon’s supporting cast included acting champs like Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Brian Cox.
Damon stepping down could – should – have been the end for Bourne. Say what you will about the reasons for continuing the series, but The Bourne Legacy not only compares to its predecessors, it creates a new divergent storyline just as gripping as Bourne’s. Opening, as the first did, with a motionless body in water, Legacy stars Jeremy Renner as super-spy Aaron Cross.
In the middle of a training exercise, Cross is mostly silent as he makes his way through the Alaskan terrain; climbing and leaping across icy mountains, and facing a pack of wolves. As he maneuvers his way to a check point, Cross stops to take “chems”, some sort of performance enhancement from a program similar to, but also drastically different from Bourne’s Treadstone. Cross discovers, almost too late, that Bourne’s very public display in Ultimatum caused a huge ripple across the board for our government’s secret projects. New govermnment baddie, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), decides to terminate every agent involved in similar covert ops. The thread doesn’t end there, though. Handlers, other agents, and even scientists working on the genetic projects are systematically wiped out to cover Bourne’s tracks.
Here is where the plot becomes bogged down by the film’s expectations. In an attempt to link the stories together fluidly, any reinforcement of that connection becomes redundant. Still, Cross’ dilemma does work within the Bourne structure, and as they move past that into the real story, paves the way for more Aaron Cross stories to come.
Enter Rachel Weisz, perhaps the most worthy of companions in the Bourne franchise. She kicks the film up a few notches with her performance as the terrified yet capable Dr. Marta Shearing. She and Cross take off across the globe to free themselves from Byer’s assassins, and here is where the film truly takes off.
Screenwriter Tony Gilroy penned each Bourne film, including the latest, but takes on the role of director with Legacy. He holds tight to the breathless pace of the past three Bourne films, filming action scene upon action scene that is thrilling to watch. The final scene, a gripping chase through the streets of Manila, gets so down and dirty that its startling snap finish will leave audiences clamoring for more.
Let’s face it – Jeremy Renner had a lot to live up to. Matt Damon is Bourne, so much so that the trailers for this sequel barely referenced Renner’s character at all. Thankfully, he brings an entirely new character to the game, rather than channel Damon. Alex Cross is sarcastic, even playful, and has much more to lose. Renner’s charisma and chemistry with Weisz as they fight their way to freedom make The Bourne Legacy not simply another awesome spy thriller, though it is that in spades. Ultimately, Cross’ back story is one that begs to be explored, and a more than commendable next step for the Bourne franchise.
For Fans Of: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum
Why We Like It: knuckle-biting action, on-location settings, Jeremy Renner