The Godfather III. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Star Wars the Phantom Menace. Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow. American movie history is littered with series that carried on too long. How Police Academy managed to limp on for seven movies is beyond anyone’s understanding, but The Godfather, Indiana Jones and Star Wars series, like punch drunk boxers stumbling around the ring taking vicious blow after vicious blow, all tainted their legacy by continuing.
Bearing in mind the desire of American studios to milk every last penny they can from successful franchises, the decision of the Greengrass/Damon partnership not to sign up for another slice of the Bourne series, as well as the fact that not only were the director and leading man not returning, but the title protagonist would be going AWOL, I had some reservations that The Bourne Legacy might not live up to its forebears. Would you make a Batman film without Batman? A James Bond picture without James Bond? You wouldn’t. So how would a Bourne movie cope without Jason Bourne?
Well, pretty much as you’d expect. There may be no Jason Bourne on screen but his actions are mentioned throughout the film with the events of Legacy seeming to run alongside Ultimatum. But whilst JB is swanning about London with soon-to-be murdered journalists, Aaron Cross, our franchise’s new hero, expertly played by Jeremy Renner, is somewhere out in the North-American wilderness on a training exercise trying to keep a pack of wolves at bay and fretting over his dwindling supply of ‘chems’, a set of tablets that give him a heightened state of physical and mental prowess.
After traversing perilous mountain terrain and evading the wolves he arrives at a cabin staffed by another mysterious agent. Cross is a member of Operation Outcome, a DOD Black ops program which, in the wake of the Blackbriar and Treadstone scandals exposed by Jason Bourne, could potentially pose more problems to the CIA in the future if it was to be discovered. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decides that the best course of action is to eliminate all of the agents and goes about executing his plan successfully until Cross hears an approaching drone sent to annihilate him and his fellow agent. Cross flees the cabin with Bourne-esque timing.
Meanwhile a group of scientists that have been working on the agents are brutally murdered in their lab, with the sole survivor, Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), having treated Cross at some point in the past. When more government operatives show up at her house to finish the job, Cross appears as if by super-spy magic and thwarts their plans and rescues the beautiful Doc.
What follows is an blood-pumping, adrenaline fuelled ride that includes espionage, fist fights, gun fights, an epic dash across continents, mysterious drugs, the textbook Bourne rooftop chase scene and more espionage.
The film itself is an enjoyable watch and as you’d expect, action packed, and maybe if this was a stand-alone film and wasn’t being compared to what came before it then maybe it would fare a bit better, but the simple fact remains that this is a Bourne film without a Bourne, and because of that Gilroy feels the need to every now and then throw Jason Bourne’s name into general conversation, or flash up a picture of Matt Damon, interrupting the flow of Cross’ story, which is also a bit patchy.
By far the biggest reason to go and watch The Bourne Legacy is Renner. He’s previously shone in supporting roles (The Town) but this is his announcement that he can carry a Hollywood blockbuster by himself, and carry it he does.
It’s unfortunate Renner wasn’t knocking about outside Universal studios when they were casting the original Bourne as he makes a more convincing agent-gone-rogue than Damon, and is the best part about The Bourne Legacy by a snow-laden, wolf-infested mile. His grizzly, weathered features give him a tougher, grittier appearance than the fresh-faced Damon and you can tell from the way he moves that he dabbles in martial arts in his spare time. Renner doesn’t move like an actor pretending to be a spy, he moves like a soldier.
However, it’s not simply his physical qualities and ability to handle the action sequences with aplomb that make his role so good. It’s a determined and accomplished performance that gives depth to a potentially one-dimensional character and he’s got that everyman quality that makes you root for him that little bit more.
But as great as Renner is, it’s difficult to see where the Bourne franchise goes from here without tainting its legacy. Although this should mark the end of the Bourne series, it should also mark the beginning of Jeremy Renner as a fully-fledged, A-list, action star. And that’s not a bad legacy.