Review: ‘Bourne Legacy’ disappoints

Associated Press
This publicity film image released by Universal Pictures shows Jeremy Renner, as Aaron Cross, in a scene from “The Bourne Legacy.”

By Caroline Brewton

City Desk Editor

When I was a little girl, I was always astounded when someone made the prediction that a movie would have a sequel, having no understanding whatsoever of the way the minds of studio executives worked. Could I have foreseen the “Little Mermaid 2?” Or 3? No, but someone more savvy could smell a string of bad Disney sequels a mile off. These add-ons, which I invariably found disappointing, served only to cash in on the good name of a better movie. Money could be made from unnaturally extending a story which had reached a satisfying conclusion–and it was.

The bad sequel, you see, isn’t always a second movie – it’s a bad extension of an original story. Sometimes a second movie is even necessary, sometimes a third. It’s a question of value added – and I’m not talking in terms of cold, hard cash. I’m talking artistic integrity.

I thought the Bourne trilogy handlers had more of it than Disney, being an avid fan of the first three films. The Bourne story had reached its natural stopping point, and nothing need more be said. I thought nothing would. And then the previews started for “The Bourne Legacy.”

I was optimistic at first. I heard the word ‘reboot’ often. ‘Legacy’ inhabits the Bourne universe, but follows a new hero: Aaron Cross.

Jeremy Renner, the new it-boy in action heroes, was cast as Cross. The female lead fell to Rachel Weiss. Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne never manifests in the flesh, but stalks through the film as an abstraction, a name carved into wood, a picture in a news broadcast, or dropped from the mouth of intelligence officials who are determined not to let Bourne’s status as a rogue ‘infect’ their other programs.

Joan Allen’s Pam Landy also appears briefly, but our chief superbaddie is Eric Byer (Edward Norton) who orders the hit on Cross and other agents of the ‘Outcome’ Project.

The details of ‘Outcome’ were fairly engrossing. Outcome agents were genetically modified for physical and intellectual prowess, and given two sets of pills – blues and greens – to take. The agents were required to take their ‘chems’ on a regular basis to maintain their skills, and also, it is implied, keep them under the control of their handlers. When Byer decides to scrap the current crop of agents and other program staffers, Cross survives the purge, but must find a way to access the ‘chems’ in order to stay alive. Not because he must take them or suffer grave physical harm from deprivation alone, but, he reveals, but because he is not naturally intelligent enough to evade his pursuers. He teams up with fellow survivor Marta Shearing (Weiss) to evade the bad guys and find a way to keep his skills, with or without the drugs.

Cross’ chemical dependence: now here is a story with potential — and where ‘Legacy’ as a film fails. Pre-Outcome Cross was twelve IQ points below the enlistment requirement for the army. Post-Outcome Cross is supernaturally clever and skilled. Had this angle been explored, I could have seen Legacy as movie with surprising depth, exploring themes of identity, dependence, and scientific enhancement. Instead, I spent a movie ticket on a shallow flick that only served to disappoint.

The original films had depth: Bourne came of age slowly as he regained his identity and faced the implications of his former lives. Cross crossed his threshold by taking a pill, a process that lasted a mere two days in movie time. There is no comparison to the finesse with which the story of Bourne unfolded. Gilroy’s screenplays for the trilogy were handled with the precision of an expert marksman with a high-powered sniper rifle, whereas the story of Cross was handled like a rookie who must utilize the raking fire of an automatic submachine gun loaded with easy plot elements.

At this point, ‘Legacy’ devolves into a predictable hunt-and-chase in the mode of the first three films. It’s Cross and Shearing against a whole slew of professional assassins and others working for the U.S. government.

Some of the awfulness can be attributed to the writing in of a nameless, cookie-cutter assassin (Louis Ozawa Changchien) with no personality who is drafted to take out Cross. He is revealed to be an agent of another shadowy operation, LARX, and the only real purpose I could divine in him was to extend the already interminable final chase scene. This chase scene inhabits the entire movie following the resolution of the chem drama.At this point, I was ready for the movie to end. Even as a stand-alone, the movie merely creeps toward adequacy, but the glorious tradition of the previous Bourne films makes this failure particularly heinous.

The acting was good. I like Renner, Weiss and even Norton, but through no fault of theirs, the writing ensured fairly predictable characters.

‘Legacy’s’ flat screenplay’ misses the intensity and urgency of the other Bournes. It is unoriginal because the plot has been done, more skillfully, in the first films. The details vary, but only just.

Despite my disappointment in the initial movie, I believe Cross’ story has potential, but I hope the inevitable sequels are handled as this movie should have been: with care.