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August 18, 2012


Movie Review – The Bourne Legacy (2012)


DISCLAIMER: Today’s review is filled with subjective impressions and anecdotal evidence. The latter comes from an informal focus group of about 20 Indianapolis moviegoers who saw it with me opening weekend, and is covered in Part 2.


1) The theme of identity. So you probably already know the basic premise. The Bourne Legacy is a spin-off/continuation of the three film series that started with The Bourne Identity. The new hero is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another genetically enhanced superspy from the shadow government agency that manufactured Jason Bourne. While this isn’t a “Jason Bourne movie”, it definitely is a “Bourne movie”. It has the same narrative construction and writer-director Tony Gilroy gives a lot of attention to showing that events are set in motion by, and unfold contemporaneously with, the events of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The set-up is a logical extension of the earlier films, but where the connections approach really pays off is in the exploration of identity. The amnesiac Jason Bourne was driven to reconstruct who he was, and then to come to terms with it and move on. In a neat inversion, Cross’s goal is to not lose the identity he has created for himself within the program.

2) Jeremy Renner. To my mind, Jeremy Renner is the top action star in Hollywood right now. He’s a terrific dramatic actor, no one who’s seen him in The Hurt Locker and The Town can argue with that. He has a brooding charisma and a quicksilver tongue. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers proved he can handle the physical side. Of relatably average stature, he’s compact and powerful, and has the physique and economy of movement of a special forces soldier. He’s tremendously attractive but his face and body look lived in; instant action hero credibility. What can I say? I’m crazy about the guy.

3) The opening. The movie starts with Cross on a training exercise in the frozen north (the fearsome beauty of British Columbia standing in for Alaska; the action will travel to Maryland and then Manila, also filmed on location). Using visual cues, Renner’s performance, and (a little bit of) dialogue, the opening packs a lot of information into a small number of minutes. Much of it is foundational detail about the life of a program participant, as they’re euphemistically referred to, and the fact that he’s in the back of beyond is a critical plot point. Most important, though, is the character introduction. The opening establishes a baseline for Cross’s personality, physical capabilities, and fighting skills. Knowing the baseline gives us a perspective on the character that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

4) The action. It’s good. It looks real. There’s a lot of it.

5) The love interest. Rachel Weisz is such a good actress. Add in screen presence that’s a match for Renner’s and an accessible beauty worlds away from the airbrushed immobility celebrated by celebrity culture. And the script gives her a good part to work with; a victim-to-fighter arc that doesn’t stretch credulity or sacrifice her scientist character’s intelligence.

3 1/2 stars


My informal focus group was ad hoc but representative, I think; ranging in age from early 20s to mid-50s, an equal gender balance, a mix of casual and committed moviegoers. About half the group hadn’t seen a Bourne movie before this and only a few had seen all three. The Bourne Identity came out ten years ago and the third movie five years ago.

So what’s my point? This is my point: This is not a megahit, cultural touchstone series that you can assume everyone has seen, or even is familiar with as more than a name. To use this year’s obvious counter-examples, Jason Bourne isn’t the Dark Knight or The Avengers.

You remember I said Legacy is contemporaneous with Ultimatum? Most of my group didn’t get that that was what was going on. Several were very confused by all the parallel cutting and the cameo appearances by actors who played important supporting characters in the other movies. I wasn’t confused, since I’ve seen the other movies and remember them pretty well, but I wasn’t really that interested in watching them be linked up in such detail.

I can imagine several reasons why the filmmakers should have gone to so much trouble to connect this film to the earlier ones: to please the core fanbase; to lay the groundwork for more movies; maybe they thought it was important for audience credibility because they’re continuing the series with a new star. That’s all fine, except it isn’t about telling this story. Maybe it will all prove to be important in the next installment. Regardless, it should have been worked into this one more adroitly.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 9 2012

    I’d just finished watching the film and found it to be entirely average. I hadn’t watched the 3 previous films more than once, and the last time that I’d watched them was when they’d premiered. So I remembered, basically nothing that had happened in the previous films prior to watching this film. And not knowing that this film takes place between the second and third Bourne films, I was lost throughout the first 30 minutes. Then, the following hour and a half were just sort of uninteresting. I found Weiss’ character unlikable and found Renner’s character hollow and transparent. He was just a robot that used to be a man and he simply wanted his drugs. A very weak and short story.

    And to top of all off, the film lacks a third act. It just stopped. After an uninspired and mediocre 15 minute bike chase through the crowded streets of Manila, the film just stopped and rolled its credits.

    I liked Norton’s character the most because his was the most relatable and proficient.

    I find this to be a hugely disappointing film, coming from the writer/director of the masterful Michael Clayton.

  2. Dec 9 2012

    That validates Part 2.

  3. Dec 9 2012

    Please explain the structure of your review. I only see Part 2 in this film.

  4. Dec 10 2012

    I meant that your comment supported my criticism that the story was confusing to people who don’t clearly remember the Greengrass films.

  5. Dec 10 2012

    Ah. So why doesn’t that aspect factor into your overall review? I ask because a) Not everyone had watched the previous three Bourne films, and b) Most people hadn’t expected this film to tie to the previous ones. Everyone, including myself were expecting a spin-off.

    And another thing that I dislike here is that in the film, Jason Bourne’s name is mentioned a million times, alongside Treadstone (sp?), and I have no idea what Treadstone is. If they were going to connect the films, why not add a few lines of expository dialogue like, “Project Treadstone…. You remember Project Treadstone; it’s a project that _____”.

    I like your enthusiasm and review for the film but I didn’t find to like about it. Except that the camera doesn’t shake. Heck, if the film would have remained at the snowy mountains throughout its duration it would have been more interesting. I love winter.

  6. Dec 10 2012

    Of course you like winter Nir because you live in Canada and have no choice but to like it because you are stuck with it 6 months out of the year.))

  7. Dec 11 2012

    Ironically, I was born and raised in Israel. :O)

    Plus, re winter, I love it. It looks awesome, the weather’s not hot, people don’t walk down the streets in their pajamas… Welcome to Toronto. lol

  8. Dec 11 2012

    @Nir: Treadstone is to the Bourne universe as mutant powers is to the X-Men universe

  9. Dec 11 2012

    @Helen, hmm… I think I get it. Fear not! I shall revisit the previous films one day. Although, I’d hate to rewatch the second and third film because they’re shot and edited so poorly.