There’s a lot of legacy to this reboot of the Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon. Adapted from the espionage novels of Robert Ludlum, the original three were intelligent, stylish, and kinetic, balancing thrilling kill scenes with an even more suspenseful sense of consequence and remorse. The Bourne Legacy adheres to the ethical emphasis of the originals, as well as their explosive action choreography, and yet, it’s just not the same. Of course, it’s not meant to be the same. This reboot stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, another kind of artificially enhanced super-spy. Cross is the product of a similar yet even more ruthless program, this one from the Department of Defense. When the film opens, Cross is in a punitive training session in the wilds of Alaska, evading hungry wolves and experiencing withdrawal from the medications that make Outcome, the DOD’s spin-off of the CIA’s Treadwell program, more sinister, even fascist, in its genetic implications.
But before Aaron can come to understand any of these implications, he has to survive being killed off when the colonel in charge of Outcome (Edward Norton, more chilling as a policy wonk than any of the film’s assassins) decides to pull the plug, the reason being weaved into the Damon trilogy. Though it’s skillfully done—director and co-writer Tony Gilroy was one of the trilogy’s writers (as well as an Oscar nominee for writing and directing the excellent Michael Clayton)—the constant referencing to events that have to do with Jason Bourne instead of Aaron Cross dilutes the narrative tension, as if this latest batch of killing machines were just bastard offshoots.
As the dense plot unfolds, in between gripping action sequences that don’t quite fit together, Aaron’s story emerges. But it doesn’t seem integral to what he’s involved in. Aside from rescuing one of the program’s scientists, Marta (Rachel Weisz), and escaping with her to Manila, where the dirty work of Outcome’s viral research is done, we’re not quite sure what it is that he’s involved in. Apparently, that “what” will be revealed in a sequel. Though Renner brings his own appeal to his Bourne-inspired character (he’s especially good while conveying Aaron’s supreme confidence), the need for a continuation doesn’t have anywhere near the intensity generated by the first Bourne.