The man of the title is out and Hawkeye is in but can Renner and co do justice to a series with this much pedigree? We take a look at The Bourne Legacy…
In the wake of Bourne’s actions at the climax of The Bourne Ultimatum, all covert branches of the US government begin ceasing their respective black operations. This includes both Treadstone and Blackbriar, yet also includes the previously unmentioned Outcome, of which Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is an agent. After a botched attempted assassination, Renner, much like Bourne, goes on the run for answers.
Many would consider it sacrilege to continue such a much loved franchise without its lead character, yet, despite any misgivings, for the most part The Bourne Legacy comes up trumps. In bringing in the original trilogy’s writer (Tony Gilroy, the man behind the excellent Michael Clayton) for directing duties, Universal have at least brought in a talent who has a great knowledge of the material as well as ‘getting’ the Bourne universe as a whole.
It ticks all the right boxes at least. Whilst it does take a more measured pace than its immediate predecessor, Legacy uses Ultimatum’s ending as its starting point. Renner’s Cross is initially seen training in the Alaskan wilderness sans shirt in the arctic tundra when, boom, the shock wave of Bourne’s actions instigate a ripple powerful enough for the political weight of all government black ops programs to get edgy.
We’re immediately in trademark series territory, where action beats are peppered with intense expositional exchanges where shady men in suits heatedly discuss conspiracy. In fact, the first real set-piece, in which Cross narrowly avoids execution, doesn’t take place till a full twenty minutes in.
Also present are the smarts that were somewhat lacking in Ultimatum (itself much smarter than many an average blockbuster), unsurprising from the man that gave us a film as labyrinthine as Michael Clayton. There is a large amount of information to take in amongst the intrigue, much of it told in flashback or on the fly as the film moves from plot point to plot point. With so much going on, the result is a film of a deliberate but rewarding pace that never once ceases to be anything less than enthralling. The terrifically executed gunfights and car chases are more of an added bonus.
Yet Legacy’s real ace is its ability to rigidly retain series continuity whilst diverging enough to justify its own existence. We always knew there was never just one agent or even just one program, yet this is the first outing in the series that has the bravery to say that there are others just as resourceful and ruthless as Bourne. Renner may lack the main crux of what made Bourne tick (Cross is not an amnesiac) but he has charisma in spades and less angst.
There are flaws: the ending is obnoxiously abrupt with many unanswered story threads that feel deliberately left open for sequel territory, and there are brief moments of fatigue at having seen much of this already during the Damon era but, for all intents and purposes, The Bourne Legacy is a fine, confident and electrifying thriller that honours its predecessors rather than sullies them.
There’s tension here you can chew on. You can hardly argue with that.