Tony Gilroy essentially takes the Bourne universe for himself with this fourth movie that dispenses with a leading man that has fascinated cinema audiences over the past decade and attempts to instal a new figurehead. Does this gambit work, is the future bright for what is essentially a spin-off and is Aaron Cross’ story as riveting as his predecessor’s? To be fair, there was clearly demand for another movie. Fans wanted it and they’ve got it, though without the participation of Paul Greengrass or Matt Damon.
The Bourne Legacy finds an intriguing way around the lack of Jason Bourne and uses the previous three films as a catalyst for new events and characters brought out into the open due to the rogue assassin’s globe-trotting escapades. Several old faces return for cameos, which helps bridge things before jetting off onto its own course. Not that there isn’t room for a certain iconic individual to re-enter the fray.
Cross is a patriot and combat vet used by military intelligence to create a sort of super soldier. Pretty much like Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier but more grounded. Indeed, the concepts Gilroy injects border on sci-fi. There’s lots of talk of body and mind manipulation and Cross is addicted to mystery pills provided to him by his contacts. What is in these pills and why Cross want them so bad propels the story onwards whilst giving the audience the usual dynamics associated with all things Bourne. There are car chases, fast and furious fisticuffs, high-tech jargon and codenames for everything and shadowy individuals such as Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who is basically puppet master of the government’s espionage programmes that not even top level C.I.A. brass seem to know about. He’s a man with considerable power and wants to erase all his mistakes. As with the other Bourne entries, the ‘villains’ are smart intellectual sorts playing power games that unfortunately don’t go their way. They’re not Bond baddies hiding in secret lairs under the sea or inside a mountain range. Their very ordinariness is what makes subsequent actions so cold and wicked. Norton looks and acts like your average management type but his orders have wide repercussions and involve lots of people dying ugly deaths. National security is a dirty business.
An alternative title for Legacy could have been The Bourne Fiasco. The assassin might have done one after delivering his ultimatum but he’s left a real mess in his wake. Gilroy’s thriller also explores the moral implications of national security taken to truly giddy and ultra-paranoid heights. Byer tells Cross in a flashback regarding their jobs: “It’s morally indefensible and absolutely necessary.”
The spirit of the movie lies in the 1970s work of Alan J. Pakula but with the action posturing of William Friedkin (especially the climax rooftop and motorcycle chase). The action is frenetic to the point where it’s hard to discern what’s going on, therefore something of a weakness. The film does flag on occasion before miraculously picking up and delivering a thrilling, if rather abrupt, finale.
This is also a surprisingly talky picture featuring bursts of action, and not the other way round. Plenty of scenes are centred on exposition providing revelation upon revelation. The constant jargon and science talk also requires the viewer to pay attention to what is being said and why. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood blockbuster taking a leaf out of Christopher Nolan’s book with carefully built narrative architecture.
The Bourne Legacy thankfully doesn’t drop the ball which was always the major concern going in. Gilroy knows what he’s doing and gives us a character different from Jason Bourne in a variety of ways. There’s something more innocence and softer about Cross despite the fact he kills somebody with the pin from a fire extinguisher. Will we see Aaron on screen again? The director leaves it wide open to provide such an option.
UK Release Date: 13th August