The Greengrass-Damon brigade was always on the ready to sniff at this latest film in the Bourne franchise and dismiss – as they see it – its dissemination of the personal path to self-preservation and discovery that Jason Bourne was determined to follow. The fact is Legacy is about the wider picture: just how wide the whole Treadstone project really went and its damaging effects, rather than the effects on one character per say. It’s about the beginning of an end and a pure survival tale to stop those who are left in its claws from being made extinct.
Coupled with a new face at the helm in the reassuring acting presence of Jeremy Renner as Outcome agent Aaron Cross, series writer Tony Gilroy who directs this film still makes sure there are tangible links to the previous films to tie in fans still willing to give it a shot. What it will not do is win any newcomers out there as there is a degree of back knowledge necessary to understand and keep up with what’s going on.
In this film, undercover Agent Cross is fast running out of programme medication to survive, and after checking in, in a remote frozen land, soon realises someone is out to eliminate him. He must find out why and locate someone he can trust and who can help him back on track. His quest brings him into contact with genetics expert, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and onto a journey to the other side of the world with stakes that become ever higher as the Treadstone project cards come tumbling down.
Understandably, the beginning of the film spends a lot of time bringing you up to speed, jumping from location to location as it goes in some frenetic attempt at linking up the dots, before the real hunt can commence. However, rather than detract from your viewing pleasure, if you just think of it as general onscreen chaos unfolding, it does give the primary sense of the US spying machine being brought to its knees, trying everything in its power to regain control. Edward Norton’s character enshrines the latter as retired Col. Eric Byer, USAF, putting a stoic human face to the US bureaucratic machine.
In sharp contrast to the international travelogue favoured by the series, we’re introduced to new character Cross in what’s like a Bear Grylls wilderness survival video, allowing us to see the special training this character has received and get used to Renner in a role that he was born for. Indeed, the only thing stacked against him in this is the big Damon shoes he needed to fill, but if you take his character as a completely different personality – less interested in where he is going and more like a warhorse – you understand the new vision and direction Gilroy is taking. Renner is a remarkable actor in his own right who cut his teeth, military-style, in the acclaimed The Hurt Locker so is no stranger to this. There is also something quite personable about his screen presence that cultivates empathy for each disturbed individual he plays – a wise casting by the film-makers.
Weisz proves she has a staying power of a seasoned action thriller pro in this – as in her The Constant Gardener heyday. She is a source of power and knowledge, more so than the other women have been in previous Bourne films – another intriguing alteration to the Bourne plot norm. There is something quite captivating about her as Shearing, in turn making this film more about her journey of self-discovery than Renner as Cross.
Those expecting all-out action will find the first-half of the film more restrained and calculating in its offering, giving way to the compulsory on-foot pursuit and ultimate chase scene through busy Manila, Philippines traffic at rush hour that is still breathtaking to watch. There are the usual bone-crunching combat scenes too, more defining Cross as the trained killer he’s meant to be. Indeed, it is unclear whether Gilroy intended Cross to fret over his destiny in this like Bourne does, or just to survive extermination. If the latter, there is a no-nonsense rawness to Legacy that has to be admired.
The essence and momentum of Bourne is still very much apparent in Legacy, and if your past interest has been more in the mysterious, deep-rooted system that controlled Bourne, rather than just the character itself, Legacy has a lot to offer while still mentioning the series’ hero along the way. It’s also an interesting experiment in making a sequel without the lead star that actually works: Renner and Weisz make promising work of a difficult situation of appeasing fans while still entertaining.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie