The aftermath of Jason Bourne’s exposure of Operation Blackbriar sends a ripple of unease through the CIA, who decide the only course of action is to eliminate their operatives in similar covert schemes. One of these is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) who is currently out on a mission in the wilderness (and looks like he may have strayed from Liam Neeson’s team in The Grey).
Under the authority of Col. Eric Byer (Ed Norton) Cross becomes a target, but that isn’t the only troublesome issue for the agent, who is serious down on the meds administered by his company, which he relies on to keep him functioning day-to-day in that super-solider state. Tracking down a sympathetic doctor from the program who is herself in peril (Rachel Weisz), he must outwit his assailants and find a way of replenishing his supply.
To a certain extent, the makers are starting from scratch with this fourth instalment, but the franchise is in the safe hands of director Tony Gilroy, a familiar and comfortable presence in this world, having co-scripted the three previous films. If anything, he downplays a number of scenes to pretty good effect, and is able to build that same suspense and slow burn which was evident in his debut, and breakout feature as director, Michael Clayton.
Jeremy Renner, the one figure in all this who undoubtedly has the most lifting work to do, more than adequately steps into Damon’s shoes, and his star continues on the ascend. Perhaps as a concession to the fact he doesn’t have the same box office pull as his predecessor, the makers have scooped up two big-time for key supporting roles. Although it’s the kind of role which seems a little slight for an A-lister, Norton does a good job with what is essentially the Joan Allen/Chris Cooper role of the previous films, barking orders at his team of specialists while the camera tracks furious around him. Weisz is memorable too, and manages to bring something else to the usual damsel-in-distress trope.
Despite these positives, a fundamental issue at the heart of The Bourne Legacy is that it lacks the same propulsive narrative and ongoing journey of self-discovery for its protagonist – key ingredients which made the first series so memorable. By comparison, Cross is simply on the hunt for his ‘fix’, meaning the stakes are considerably lower. Other elements remain (the exciting cat and mouse scenarios, plus Cross’ training and resourcefulness in getting out of tight spots) but there’s a struggle to appease both camps by attempting to do something a little different, yet having to retain what the audience expect.
As a stand alone action thriller it’s well-made and often pretty entertaining, but it may disappoint that summer popcorn market clambering for the same action ratio delivered in the previous instalments. When it’s called upon to fulfil the bang for buck obligations, it more than adequately delivers (Gilroy strips away a little of Paul Greengrass’ jagged, vérité style, while still managing to muster the requisite thrills) but audiences have to wade through a bucketload of exposition and character interaction until those meatier action scenes arrive.
In an age where this type of minimum-risk, déjà vu mainstream filmmaking is increasingly becoming commonplace, Gilroy has arguably performed to the best of his abilities, considering the parameters he’s had to work within. The film’s shortcomings are ultimately down to Universal who are dealing with an impossible task of reigniting a franchise minus the very thing which was essential to its success, and that’s something the solid work and effort here can’t quite remedy.