Robert Ludlum penned three Bourne novels before he died in 2001 due to injuries sustained in a bizarre fire, and all three were made into feature films starring Matt Damon as the titular Jason Bourne. In the years since his passing, six new Bourne stories have been crafted by Eric Van Lustbader, the first of which continued Bourne's story in The Bourne Legacy. Therein lies the confusion: the 2012 Bourne film, 'The Bourne Legacy,' has nothing to do with that particular book, despite sharing its title. In fact, it has little to nothing to do with Bourne, despite carrying his name, and aside from a few namedrops and images on computer screens, Damon does not appear in the film. In this new film directed by Tony Gilroy (the screenwriter of all four 'Bourne' films), we're given a new story, featuring a different agent, in a side-story that is not a prequel, sequel, or reboot, sharing some of the events of 'Ultimatum' to inform viewers of when exactly the story takes place.
Over the original trilogy, viewers have met numerous government agents who proved to be adversaries to Jason Bourne, so when the cover art to 'The Bourne Legacy' proclaims "There was never just one," it's really not all that hard to believe that in the layers of conspiracy and duplicity that there would be other people in the same program. These assets are kept on short leashes, controlled by the medication they take at regular intervals that make them almost superhuman. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one such agent on the same path as Bourne, but when the Blackbriar and Treadstone operations are revealed to the public (events seen in 'Ultimatum'), a retired US Air Force colonel (Edward Norton as Eric Byer) involved in the cover-up decides to remove all evidence by eliminating the soldiers these agencies created. Cross's only link to discovering why he's suddenly a target lies in a geneticist (Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing) who played a role in the creation of the chemicals he's running short on, and the net is closing around him as Byer pulls all his resources to terminate the both of them before they can expose the truth.
'The Bourne Legacy' isn't a bad film by any means. It features the same beats fans are familiar with, with constant danger around every corner, no easy escape, and a series of increasingly nasty challenges for the hero to overcome. There's a thrilling chase sequence, plenty of mystery and mystique concerning the entire saga revealed, and a strong core of villains calling the shots, not to mention riveting frenetic action and a beautiful female love interest. It also features far too much forced nostalgia and failed attempts at callbacks to events in previous films that force us out of the film experience, not to mention some dangerous pacing issues and a general sense of anarchy that runs contrary to the excellently crafted, meticulous nature we've come to know from characters in these films.
The real catch 22 is Jason Bourne. Without the recognizable face, it's our job as viewers to try to feel for Cross, who is, in his own right, an equally intricate, muddled character, but this task becomes quite difficult since the film itself can't let go of its past. The references to Bourne are spread out to remind us "hey, you, you're watching a Bourne film, ok? This isn't some random action espionage thriller, it's Bourne!," and the act wears thin. We're supposed to be ooh-ing and aww-ing at the callbacks, from music cues to mentions or allusions, yet all it does is take us away from being able to move on, accept the film for what it is, and let it become its own story.
It's tragic, really, as 'Legacy' has great potential. The opening act, covering Cross's training in isolation, is neat, while his interaction with another asset, the unease, the cat-and-mouse game that's part friendly and part less-than-friendly really lets us into his world for the first time. Meanwhile, another story is unfolding, as Shearing's lab becomes the location of a brutal massacre, before agents attempt to silence the survivor. The combining of these two plots is done in a very amateurish way, not to mention the fact that Cross is off-screen far too long for the film's good, but from that point on, the film is running on all cylinders. There's intrigue as the pair attempt to escape America, with sequences in an airport that are meant to put one at the edge of their seat, all the while we see the government agents who are hunting them down pull more and more power and clout, piecing the puzzle together. The final third of the film takes place in Manila, and it's almost non-stop action, with a foot-chase sequence that's just about impossible not to enjoy (particularly in how it makes a claustrophobic setting seem wide open and accessible), which leads seamlessly into a fantastically choreographed motorcycle chase that has a fantastically nasty, realistic conclusion.
'The Bourne Legacy' deserves to wear its monicker with pride, as it has everything one would expect out of a film in the series. It just also has far too many attempts to justify the way the series had to move on from Damon as Bourne. Even if it does a terrible job in establishing who exactly the main villains are and why they're involved in the story whatsoever, this flick pulls it together and opens the door for what could be another excellent series. Sadly, the film made the least money in its domestic theatrical showings of any in the series, with around half of what 'Ultimatum' drew five years earlier, so the question now isn't a matter of when the story will continue, but if. I genuinely hope to see more of Renner in this role, as we're just barely beginning to peel back layers of the onion, and the man is a natural replacement for the deposed Damon, with the right mix of acting capabilities and believability as an action badass. One doesn't need to brush up on the previous films to enjoy this one, so give it a whirl, even if it's hard to disassociate oneself and move on. There's a good enough payoff to give it a shot.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Bourne Legacy' comes to Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc from Universal. The disc itself features a large amount of trailers that load via BD-Live that have to be skipped individually, with a nice lag between due to the internet load, and the menu operates exactly like any other disc from the studio. The Best Buy ad for the week of 'Legacy''s release states there will be a bonus disc with around 30 minutes of additional content, but said disc was not provided for coverage and is not included in this review's scoring.
'The Bourne Legacy' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode at 2.40:1, and the result is... good, but not entirely great. I fell in love with the depth of picture of this non-3D film, to be sure, and there are more than enough little moments spread throughout the film that boast that fantastic level of fine definition in the deepest recesses of the picture for me to say that's the disc's highlight, even over the astonishingly detailed close-up shots. Whites, particularly the opening act's abundance of snow, are quite natural, while black levels are appropriate without even the slightest hint of crush. While this disc is free from artifacting and banding, noise is present and accounted for in excess, while there are also some random moments where edges just don't feel natural, which caused my eye to stray from the action more than I would have liked. The good outweighs the bad here, and when this disc is on the mark, it's truly spectacular; when it's off, it's just irritating.
Presented with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, 'The Bourne Legacy' is an audio stunner, with everything one would hope for from a film in this genre. Bass is outright thunderous, even in simple bits like establishing ambience and tension. Volume levels spike and crescendo wonderfully, giving the film amazing power without blaring or feeling over the top and obnoxious. The entire room is regularly engaged with a good, believable bit of activity when applicable, and it doesn't hurt that room dynamics are natural and life-like. Movement and localization effects are natural and somewhat understated, despite their regular use, as they're not blatantly obvious, aiming to immerse you in the film rather than distract you with sonic prowess. The only reason this disc isn't earning a perfect score is due to the bike chase finale, which had moments that fell flat, just not up to the level that the film sets up to that point. This disc sounds awesome, though, and has plenty of amazing moments to make owners of high-def audio gear more than happy.
This set includes a DVD copy of the film. The best features on this release just so happen to also appear on the DVD, as well.
I really enjoyed 'The Bourne Legacy,' although I recognize it could have been a much better film if it didn't constantly try to justify its existence in the series. Renner is a solid choice, while Edward Norton channels a hint of his Will Graham character from 'Red Dragon' in a role that lives up to the high bar set by Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, David Strathairn, and Albert Finney. There's plenty of action, including an excellent chase segment, a few nasty little fight sequences, and enough mythology to choke on. This disc features solid to excellent presentation qualities, as well as all HD supplements, some of which are very well made. I was hesitant, honestly, to see how Gilroy would pull this film off. Now, I'm anxious and hoping to see Renner further delve into this spiderweb of a saga.