Jason Bourne as played by Matt Damon was a compelling character. Bourne had lost his memory and he discovered that he was a special agent working for nefarious government overlords. He wanted to remember who he was while dodging a variety of villains gunning for him. Damon played him with vulnerability and menace in equal parts. It’s easy to understand why the character and the three films he starred in, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum, were so successful.
It’s also easy to understand why Universal didn’t want to give up on the franchise when Damon said he wouldn’t come back.
And it’s fair to say the universe that Bourne inhabited seemed rife with interesting stories. I certainly think there is a way this series could carry on without Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and still be compelling. Unfortunately, The Bourne Legacy isn’t it.
It should go without saying that this piece contains spoilers about Legacy as well as the previous Damon vehicles as well. The central problem with Legacy is the premise. In the first three films, generally the premise was focused on Jason Bourne was trying to learn who he was while battling shadowy government forces seeking to escape exposure. Legacy starts during the third Bourne movie, Ultimatum, when it’s discovered that Jason Bourne is in NYC. Some of Ultimatum’s characters like Scott Glenn and David Strathairn make little more than cameos throughout the movie and pass their evil batons to Ed Norton and Stacy Keach. Joan Allen literally appears for about 15 seconds towards the non-sequitur ending, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Bourne is in NYC and while the 3rd film’s evil characters are dealing with that situation, we find out they were also talking to other shadowy, evil characters in another government agency who now strive to clean up the mess. All of this is juxtaposed with disconnected sequences of Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross (not named for like 3/4 of the movie, by the way), in Alaska swimming in freezing lakes, fighting wolves (really), and taking pills. This is all setup for a ham-handed comment later on where a character suggests that wolves don’t normally pursue a person like they’ve been doing and maybe it’s because they don’t perceive him as a man, but as an animal. Ok.
Anyway, Bourne in NYC has exposed the secret programs the government has been running and now the press and Congress are aware. Eventually, the bad guys start doing what they generally do in movies like this: they start killing everyone and destroying evidence. Of course, since Aaron Cross is battling nature off the grid in Alaska, he is spared from the poisoned drugs the other agents take. Cross comes upon a cabin in the wilderness that’s run by a fellow operative in a very confusing series of sequences where we learn that Cross “asks too many questions” and has kind of a quippy demeanor, which none of the other agents we’ve seen in the series this far have displayed. But it’s not clear why Renner’s character was in the wilderness at all and it’s not clear why the operative in the cabin is acting so weird–he’s clearly not a part of the evil government’s plans since they blow him up with a drone strike that Cross escapes purely on luck.
At this point, the movie devolves into, well, a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne. And this is glaringly apparent in our “hero’s” primary motivation: to find more drugs. Yep, really. Jason Bourne sought to learn his identity and escape the reach of a massive government cover-up. Aaron Cross is running out of drugs and wants more. That’s his motivation and that’s the story which drives the plot.
Did I mention Rachel Weisz is in this? Well, she is. In the first half of the movie, while inter cutting between Cross in AK and Ed Norton snarling in DC(?), they eventually add a third cut to a pharmaceutical company where Weisz’s character works. She runs blood tests on mysterious guys who, I think we’re just supposed to infer are secret agents like Bourne and Cross. It’s not until a flashback much later that we see Cross was, in fact, one of her patients. They don’t appear to have any real connection or chemistry in this scene other than Renner kind of mugging for her attention. It’s Rachel Weisz, so I can understand.
Anyway, Zeljko Ivanek (aka: State’s Attorney Ed Danvers from Homicide: Life on the Street and about a million other things) plays another researcher at Weisz’s company. One day he starts killing everyone and, I guess, he kind of liked Rachel Weisz so he didn’t kill her right away. But then he does try and security guards kill him. The movie clumsily tells us that this guy did this because he was biologically programmed to do so. YES, shock: the same kinds of drugs that Aaron Cross takes are being leveraged by the government to program super agents into doing… things. Killing people. You know, spy stuff.
Weisz was the only survivor and when the government tries to kill her, too, Renner inexplicably shows up and kicks ass, kind of. I say “kind of” because I couldn’t help but think that Jason Bourne would have mopped these clowns up in no time. I mean, this was a guy who defeated another super spy in hand to hand combat with a Bic pen. Renner, on the other hand, has trouble battling some guys who appear to just be faceless government stooge suits. Maybe I’m being picky on this point.
But really, the rest of the movie is just Renner and Weisz traveling from place to place looking for pills so he can avoid devolving… or something. I’m not 100% clear what happened with that. I think I was on Twitter during those parts. Suffice it to say, they sort of figured it out and the government chased them. Even the motorcycle chase through Manilla (I think it was Manilla) was sort of *blah.* Bourne’s car duel vs. New Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) in The Bourne Supremacy was a far superior chase sequence, though this one had Rachel Weisz screaming and freaking out a lot. She also got to do something at the end other than be scared and scream, which was nice for her, I guess.
Then the movie just kind of ends. Literally. Our heroes(?) have escaped evil Ed Norton, who was really an ineffectual government opponent, but it’s not like he’s done looking for them. They only defeated the super(?) agent pursuing them, who apparently had better drugs (really), and dropped the local police off of their tail. But Norton and Stacy Keach are certainly still looking for them. There’s that weird, pointless Joan Allen cameo I mentioned earlier where it kind of seems like she’ll be arrested or… something, which kind of negates the semi-positive ending of The Bourne Ultimatum.
I guess what I’m really saying is: Matt Damon, stop making movies with Jim from The Office and do more of these movies because these guys are lost without you.