Review: The Bourne Legacy
The Bourne Legacy doesn’t tarnish the reputation the Bourne series has acquired from its three predecessors.
There was a scene in Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as James Bond, where the British secret agent, having escaped an ice palace, is surfing a tidal wave, brought on from the baddie firing a laser ray at the polar icecaps.
The twentieth Bond film jumped the shark in a major way. The gold mark for espionage films had become a dull, special-effect driven action blockbuster that required as much brain-power to follow as an average episode of Geordie Shore. No wit, sophistication, class or plot.
That same year another spy-film was released based on Robert Ludlum’s series of books, The Bourne Identity.
In it Matt Damon portrayed Jason Bourne, an agent for a clandestine operation of the CIA, Treadstone. He seeks to uncover his true identity. The movie’s success spawned two sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.
Movies focusing on intelligence agencies had, ironically, become dumb and treated the audience like slack-jawed morons with the attention span and mental faculties of a goldfish.
Bourne changed that. Where Bond had polished special effects, Bourne had gritty realism. Where Bond had larger-than-life characters, Bourne had character development. Where Bond had style, Bourne had substance.
After twenty Bond films, the series had become hackneyed and unchallenging content with its mediocre comfort zone.
Bourne forced Bond to go back to basics with the first Daniel Craig Bond flick Casino Royale, which featured a more aggressive, more clever Bond.
Now the Bourne franchise has become, well, a franchise and it faces a similar impasse that faced Bond post-Die Another Day. How can you maintain a series’ quality while maintaining it with a new star? (Jeremy Renner taking over as a new protagonist with Matt Damon gone from the series.)
Fortunately, The Bourne Legacy manages to navigate those pitfalls well, while opening up new possibilities for the series by expanding the Bourne universe into the wider operations of Treadstone and Blackbriar, the upgraded programme for enhanced CIA agents. As one antagonist says: "You think that Jason Bourne was the whole story? There's a lot more going on here."
Expanded universes in films are usually clunky and overbearing at times, one need only look at Star Wars for an example, but Legacy doesn’t fall foul of this.
The film commendably can be watched in isolation, while at the same time still alluding to its predecessors, director and screenwriter Tony Gilroy skillfully acknowledging the franchise’s legacy, while not ruining its presence.
The movie focuses on American intelligence services trying to wash its hands of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programmes after Bourne’s past activities threaten to reveal their hidden operations and the actions of men in western countries that do the “morally, indefensible and absolutely necessary” as one of the “villains” puts it.
Renner is suitably realistic, rugged and believable, possibly more so than Damon, as a rogue agent caught in the crosshairs as a result of his superior's morally questionable actions. Rachel Weisz supports him as a doctor for the espionage agency, a role she plays with intelligence and vitality and devoid of any damsel in distress clichés.
The movie, while opening new possibilities for the future of the franchise, is, in itself, a movie about possibilities. The possibilities of the free availability of vast quantities of data in the modern world through entities such as Wikileaks and the possibility in the near future of genetically-engineered improvements to humans are all areas that are focused on. It asks who has the right to use and control these possibilities and does anyone have the right to suppress them once they’re put into motion?
The movies starts at a slow pace as it builds its complex and engaging story and gives its audience credit enough to have the patience and intellect to follow the story. This patience and intelligence is rewarded with some superbly-crafted, believable action scenes.
The film also has some fantastic, expansive settings from Alaska to Manilla and allows more focus on the landscape, setting and character than the last two Bourne movies, which is necessary as we get introduced to Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of agent Aaron Cross.
The movie lives up to the other movies in the Bourne series, which is great given their high standard. It’s a double-edged sword though, as there are no genre-altering innovations in Legacy as there was in Identity. Perhaps in introducing new lead characters while trying to be faithful to the heritage of the series, there is no room to do so.
If you’re looking for an intelligent spy-movie this month though, this is the best one to see.