The last installment of the Bourne franchise left with Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy exposing Operation Blackbiar to the public, jumpstarting Legacy with the CIA’s immediate action to eradicate their other black ops projects, including eliminating all the field agents attached to them. Enters Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the movie’s rugged leading man, emerging from the mountainous waters while on a training mission, ripped and steely-eyed as 007’s Daniel Craig. With the sharp, howling atmosphere of Alaska as the film’s opening backdrop, it sends its audience into flight response while still steadily pacing the plot and character introductions by cutting continuously between Cross’s expedition back to the shadowy conference rooms in D.C.
Edward Norton plays Retired Colonial Eric Byer, the head of special ops programs. Clearly a man who is consumed by his job, hence his prematurely graying hair, Byer will go to any length to stop his secret operations’ dirty little secrets from ever seeing the light of day. In an extremely refreshing take, Norton is not playing your typical sinister, mustache-twisting-villain, but simply a dedicated man trying to do what he believes is for the better good of the government. With Tony Gilroy’s screenplay, he constructs it so that everyone is morally compromised, so Byer being the antagonist is based more on the fact that he is simply the greatest threat to Aaron. Cross, who is effortlessly engaging in a wordless manner, finally comes across another field agent, Number Three (played by Oscar Isaac). As the two finally exchange dialogue, we discover that this particular program, called Operation Outcome, is made up of genetically enhanced super-agents provided with drugs concocted by biochemist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and others at a high-security laboratory.
After outlining the film’s scenario, Legacy shoots off into action mode with a massive missile explosion that wipes out the training cabin Cross and Number Three are taking refuge in. When Byer and the rest of his tech-savvy team are convinced Cross has been killed, they move onto taking out all the staff involved in Outcome as well, including Dr. Shearing.
The pace and action scenes are recognizably different in this fourth installment, some for the better and some not. What initially starts as an intriguing back-story suddenly inches its way to becoming the main plot. Identity worked with the audiences not learning a lot about the government’s secret programs, because we only knew as much as Bourne did at the time (consequences of amnesia). Unfortunately, everyone is now well aware of the CIA’s involvement, and we would have liked to know more on how Cross plans to remove this threat, but Legacy fails to deliver. It is primarily a survival film, a continuous struggle of Cross and Shearing being hunted with Byer’s men on their boot heels. And its final action sequence isn’t exactly climatic, not to say it isn’t well made. It simply just doesn’t leave the audience with that lasting satisfaction required to end the movie, but is better suited as a mid-film adrenaline shot. So when Moby’s “Extreme Ways” (the franchise’s theme) starts to play in the background, it’s clearly announcing the film’s conclusion, but it still feels all a bit too abrupt.
On a positive note, the casting in Legacy is a definite upgrade. Rachel Weisz’s chemistry with Renner seems far more realistic and believable than Matt Damon’s former interests, Julia Stiles and
Franka Potente. As for the skepticism concerning Matt Damon’s replacement, the truth is there’s no contest. Jeremy Renner is a far more natural fit for the role, looking much more at home with his physicality and demeanor. Damon’s boy-next-door appearance never quite captured the “super-spy” air that his alternate does. Also, in the big brother era with security cameras lurking everywhere, director Doug Liman’s approach to the first three installments always presented Bourne too conspicuously, begging the audience to ask the question, “doesn’t Bourne own a hat, or at least a hoodie?” Fortunately its new director, Tony Gilroy, still never disguising Renner’s appearance, somehow is able to give Cross a phantom-like presence, distinguishable to us as the viewers but never making him the spotlight to onlookers.
Despite my few criticisms, the good points outweigh the negative. Renner and Gilroy have established their mark on this chain, proving Damon’s presence is not essential or anymore relevant to keeping these films afloat.