The Bourne Legacy movie poster
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The Bourne Legacy movie poster

The Bourne Legacy Movie Review

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When it was announced that a fourth Jason Bourne movie was being developed without star Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass, I was worried. When it was announced that returning writer Tony Gilroy was taking over the directing reigns and making a Jason Bourne movie that would include its main character, I was ready to throw in the towel. Having now watched The Bourne Legacy, I wish Universal Pictures would have thrown in the towel long ago.

The Bourne Legacy on its own is not a bad movie. Tony Gilroy, who directed the masterful Michael Clayton, is a capable director and makes a strong claim that he can handle action. The movie jumps around like a good spy movie should and develops likable lead characters – played by Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz – allowing for the audience to engage with the film.

But The Bourne Legacy by definition cannot live on its own. It is set in the world where Jason Bourne exists and the CIA is trying its damndest to cover up his existence, to the extent that footage from previous movies is used to seed the story. It is a sequel to The Bourne Ultimatum, only with a different lead character, tone, plot and purpose.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see Jason Bourne kick some ass.

As good as it is on principle, The Bourne Legacy is a major misfire for the franchise and Universal Pictures. If the studio wanted to continue the franchise, it needed to continue the story of Jason Bourne. I say it every time, but even from the books there is so much of his story to tell. Trying to go an entirely different direction just doesn’t work. It also doesn’t help that the picture pales in comparison to its predecessors.

First, the plot is just… meh. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is an operative, who, like many others in his secret program, is “addicted” to pills that make him both physically and intellectually superior to regular people. When the events in The Bourne Ultimatum occur, the CIA decides they need to wipe out all evidence of the program – including their operatives. Naturally, Aaron Cross survives. Unlike Jason Bourne, however, he doesn’t care about the truth; he only cares about the pills, and he recruits a doctor (Rachel Weisz) to help him track them down so he doesn’t go brain dead or something like that.

It’s a perfectly fine plot for another movie, but not a Bourne movie. While it is by no means a science fiction film, Gilroy spends so much time focused on the pills (without really giving the drugs believable depth) that the story just feels a little out of left field given what we’ve come to expect of the franchise. Never mind the fact that Aaron Cross never establishes that he is as physically dominant or smart as Jason Bourne.

The movie also lacks a menacing villain. Ed Norton is good, but he’s so far removed from everything that actually happens in the movie that he serves as nothing more than window dressing. The other three movies featured both men with their own motivations and memorable killers whose loyalty is unquestionable; Norton’s motivations are by the book, and the guy who is finally brought in to actually clean up the mess appears more like a James Bond henchman than a figure to be taken seriously.

The Bourne Legacy has a couple very good action scenes, namely a motorcycle chase near the end and a gunfight in the second act. But Gilroy doesn’t have the ability to wow audiences the way Greengrass does. Tony’s brother John Gilroy edited the film and James Newton Howard (The Dark Knight) composed the music; unfortunately, John Gilroy’s editing, which might have worked for Michael Clayton, is too soft for a fast-paced action movie such as this, and the score is noticeably more subdued. Music is so important in action movies and helped springboard Greengrass’s movies to the next level; The Bourne Legacy lacks that same level of intensity.

Aside from the action scenes, the movie, at 135 minutes, also feels long and drawn out. Tony Gilroy spends a fair amount of time introducing Aaron Cross, which is typically an acceptable thing to do except this is the fourth movie of a franchise that is known to kick it into gear early and often. Even at that length, the ending is surprisingly anticlimactic and feels as though it was missing one additional action sequence.

On its own, The Bourne Legacy is an okay action movie. Jeremy Renner is great as Aaron Cross and Rachel Weisz turns in a fine performance as well. The movie looks good and has an interesting plot. But the problem is that the Bourne franchise cannot continue without Jason Bourne. The audience has too much invested in him and his motivations to completely switch gears.

Strangely enough, by editing just a couple scenes and changing the title, The Bourne Legacy could have been transformed into the launch of its own, unrelated franchise. Its shortcomings would still remain, but the huge expectations set by Paul Greengrass over the last two movies would not. As is, The Bourne Legacy is a major misstep by Universal Pictures.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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