The highly anticipated fourth installment of the Bourne series debuted August 10 this summer. Without leading man Matt Damon and with new director Tony Gilroy, “The Bourne Legacy” fell flat.
“The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” made up the original trilogy based on Robert Ludlum’s books by the same name. Throughout the first three movies, Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, a man with amnesia who, while putting the pieces of his life back together, realizes he was a CIA assassin for “Operation Treadstone”. When the CIA realizes Bourne is alive, it tries to hunt him down and kill him before he learns too much about his past and exposes the illegal government program he worked for.
“Legacy” follows the same storyline, but occurs during the events of “Ultimatum,” as the government tries to hide Treadstone’s demise. It reveals that during the time Bourne worked for Treadstone, he was part of Operation Outcome, which gave its agents pills that genetically enhanced their intelligence and strength. Without these pills, the agents will die.
As Treadstone is exposed, the CIA attempts to kill everyone involved to cover its tracks. Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, an Outcome agent fighting to survive without his pills as Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton), overseer of the CIA’s clandestine operations, tries to kill him.
The film lacks what made the first three films so compelling: strong characters, growth through a journey and a fight for the greater good. While Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton make an excellent effort, their characters are not complex. Renner does his best with a bad screenplay, at times fighting wolves in Alaska and fleeing from an assassin on a motorcycle through the streets of Manila. Ultimately, his character is boring and remains static, unlike in the previous installments of the series when Jason Bourne grew over as a character over the three films while uncovering the mysteries of his past.
Bourne fights to learn about his past and exposes the wrongdoings of the CIA, while Aaron Cross simply tries to survive and leaves no impact on the world other than the wake of a violent urban chase scene. Norton plays the antagonist Bourne viewers are used to, but his role mainly consists of ordering assassinations. Bourne’s enemies connected with him because he had the chance to ruin years’ worth of work, while he was on a mission to uncover his past and bring down corruption. This caused a greater interaction between Bourne and his rivals than in “Legacy,” where Byer’s need to kill Cross is disappointingly impersonal.
Though Byer heads the deadly operation, government itself seems to be the antagonist in the film. The original series focused on corruption, but Gilroy seems to be bashing the far-reaching abilities of government itself and its need to save face. This did not appear to be Robert Ludlum’s intention in writing the Bourne series.
Although Gilroy’s story did not live up to the past films, his directing was adequate. Compared to director Paul Greengrass’ shaky filming style in “Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” the film was visually appealing with beautiful landscapes in Canada and the Philippines. At times, the soundtrack and directing were eerie when they needed to be, and fast paced at action-filled moments. Still, this did not make up for the poorly written screenplay.
The Bourne story should have ended when Ludlum wanted it to. Gilroy makes an attempt to answer questions left open at the end of “Ultimatum” that are better left to the discretion of the viewer. He was unable to write a compelling enough story to justify another movie. His directing improves the viewing experience, but ultimately he couldn’t keep the Bourne series alive.