Where Matt Damon goes, Jason Bourne must follow. — Ancient proverb, probably.
There’s not much wrong with The Bourne Legacy, aside from its very existence. When Matt Damon stepped away after The Bourne Ultimatum, everyone involved with this franchise should’ve raised his jersey to the rafters and moved on with life. Yes, I know Damon came back for Jason Bourne, but that film felt as superfluous as this one. For all its skill and superficial entertainment value, Legacy amounts to little more than a flimsy cash-in on its superior predecessors.
This film incorporates story elements from Ultimatum, which is especially awkward without any significant involvement of the characters who drove that plot. (There are a few cameos tacked onto the ending, which only highlights how vestigial they are.) Basically, Jason Bourne made a very public mess out of some sketchy government agencies, and now a few sketchy, rich dudes in corner offices have to do some ruthless cleanup. That mission eventually centers on Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a chemically-enhanced secret agent who–like Bourne–has to simultaneously run for his life and suss out the well-hidden truth behind who he really is.
That search, and his need for a fix of super-soldier pills, leads Cross to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Shearing is a chemist who also runs afoul of these ultra-shady spy guys, which naturally leads to her and Cross on the lam together. Together, they form a urgent symbiosis: She can wean him off the meds, while his ass-whoopin’ skills can keep her alive.
All that plot is really just a thin excuse to stage another movie’s worth of Bourne shenanigans: We get multiple scenes of grouchy old men angrily glaring at each other and barking out spy jargon. There’s also a younger, hungrier bad guy, this time played by Edward Norton. He spends most of the movie staring at computer monitors and clenching his jaw, all while our heroes give him the slip. Every now and then, the Norton character will yell at his staff of incompetent techies, which sends them scattering in all directions.
But, wait–there’s more: As with the other films, there’s a hotel scene where Cross tells a tearful Shearing about the cold reality of life on the run. This leads to the inevitable shredding of credit cards and IDs. We also see multiple action beats of Cross plowing through waves of enemy henchmen, who do him a big favor by charging one at a time for their respective beatdowns. Finally, there’s the big chase in an exotic city–Manila, in this case–wherein Bourne/Cross will stage a contest with their opponent to see who’s more indestructible. (Spoiler alert: It’s actually the Laws of Physics that lose that battle.) Oh yeah, they’ll also destroy a fair chunk of the city in the process.
Make no mistake: This is fine-looking film. Tony Gilroy, who penned the previous Damon entries, steps in as director, and he’s got the Bourne aesthetic down pat. James Newton Howard’s suspenseful score pounds through the speakers. Renner and Weisz are talented actors, and they bring believable desperation to Cross and Shearing. Norton doesn’t have much to do, but he looks really mean with great effectiveness.
In conclusion, your honor: This walks and talks like a Bourne film, but it can’t copy the spark that made the original so refreshing. Yes, it may deliver two-plus hours of disposable entertainment. Yes, there may even be parts of it that are a fair amount of fun. Still, this was a movie we didn’t need, and I think Jason Bourne’s legacy deserves a little better than that.
135 min. PG-13.