Review: The Bourne Legacy
When we last saw Jason Bourne, he had taken a Tom Daley-esque dive into the big blue ocean and was swimming his way to a future unknown. The Bourne Ultimatum was the perfect end to the trilogy – with revenge wrought and closure attained, there was nothing left for Matt Damon's super-spy to do other than take a well-deserved holiday.
However, much like the government agents who wouldn't let him live in peace, Hollywood soon came calling for Bourne again, desperate to bring him out of retirement for another adventure. Damon and director Paul Greengrass couldn't find a story worthy of Bourne's return, necessitating this pseudo-sequel, minus Matt Damon. It runs concurrently to the events of Ultimatum but, crucially, forges a whole new hero – and potential franchise – in the process.
Cynically conceived though it may be, The Bourne Legacy certainly has the right talent involved. With Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass departed to pastures new (having not ruled out a return at an unspecified point in the future), the reigns of the Bourne franchise have been handed over to series screenwriter Tony Gilroy, the writer/director of George Clooney's Oscar-winning drama Michael Clayton. Gilroy's gift of slick military-style dialogue takes precedence over the scenes of frenetic action, but it does root The Bourne Legacy in a very real and frightening universe, where people and towns can be wiped out by a keystroke.
At the centre of this universe is Jeremy Renner, who plays Aaron Cross – the product of a similar military program to the one that created Jason Bourne ("There was never just one," reads the poster's tagline, as if a Matt Damon-free sequel was always on the cards). Weaned onto a treatment of genetics-enhancing pills, Cross is, erm, cross when his employers attempt to snuff him out after Jason Bourne's off-screen antics shine an unwelcome spotlight on their black ops chicanery. Aaron Cross's subsequent adventure isn't so much about revenge as it is survival, but needless to say, if there are butts that get in his way, he'll kick them.
Or run them over on his motorbike.
Firstly, the elephant in the room: Jeremy Renner is no Matt Damon. Though he's done fine work as part of ensembles in the likes of The Avengers and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Renner is still an untested leading man. However, the comparison with Damon – which the movie can't stop making – is unfavourable: most actors would come off worse.
Once the tempo starts pumping, Renner is totally believable as an action hero, giving the explosive set-pieces some real kick (one scene, which sees him rescue Rachel Weisz in her own home, is a real crowd-pleaser) and he's equally at home with the more cumbersome scenes of exposition, thanks to some neat chemistry with Weisz's scientist. Hopefully you shouldn't miss Matt too much.
When The Bourne Legacy is given room to forge its own legacy, it excels – an early scene, with Weisz threatened by a brainwashed co-worker on a shooting spree, is chillingly effective. However, when director Gilroy has his hand forced to include familiar Bourne tropes – chase scenes, lightning fast hand-to-hand fights, people yelling lingo at computers – Legacy does tend to feel like a retread rather than a separate entity.
As far as cynical cash-grabs go, however, The Bourne Legacy is about as good as its template allows: thrilling, character-driven and complex. Throw Matt Damon into the mix alongside Jeremy Renner for the next sequel and you've got yourself a humdinger. 4/5
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