A slow start with characters we don’t care about is probably not the best way to kick off a sequel to a franchise that doesn’t have its title character. The Bourne Legacy starts with two strikes against it: Paul Greengrass, director of the last two Bourne movies, and Matt Damon, the signature Jason Bourne, had both walked away from the franchise. So rather than re-cast the hero Robert Ludlum’s series of books, a la Ian Fleming’s 007, they opted to “expand the mythos”. In other words, instead of the adventures of James Bond, we follow the adventures of Jimbob Whogivesacrap Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).
“Is this a test?” –Kenneth
Cross, nee Kenneth J. Kitsom, is a part of Outcome, a companion program to Bourne’s Treadstone. Outcome operatives are genetically modified via chems/program kit: green pills to improve physical performance while blue pills provides mental enhancement. Like Captain America’s Steve Rogers, Kitsom was scrawny when he joined the military, except his was a mental weakness as they had to lie and add 12 points to his IQ to make the bare minimum for service. Without the pills, he would revert to their previous, unmodified state, which would be a “long fall down” after he’s had a taste of what he could be. So he partners with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who has just survived a horrendous workplace shootout (which is particularly harrowing in light of the events in Aurora, Colorado).
Said shootout was only part of the less-than-subtle cleanup operation of Treadstone and Outcome led by Ret. Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton). There’s a tonal shift from the first movies as this one spends a lot of time with the machinations of the cover up and taking too long to focus on Cross. The plot comes across as unnecessarily convoluted when it boils down to “Bourne exposed us, kill all loose ends.” More conspiracy, less action didn’t work out so well for Star Wars episodes 1-3 either.
Aaron Cross is a lone wolf cipher, dispatched to Alaska as if he’s the Unabomber of the assassin set, in full possession of his memories. He knows exactly what he is and what he’s supposed to do. His personality amounts to asking endless questions of everyone he encounters (and if you’ve ever encountered a seven year old who does this, you know how annoying this can be as conversation). Without any exposition of who he is (because his questions go unanswered), we’re left with a character who lacks Damon’s charisma, who’s head we aren’t in, but are expected to care about.
Director Tony Gilroy opts to make up for the films lack of action by cramming as much as he can into the final act. This includes dropping in an agent from yet another program, LARX-3, which has Louis Ozawa Changchien mean-mugging his way through scenery like a T-1000 from The Terminator series.
“Who tells you that this is okay?” –Aaron
Our military and espionage agents often find themselves in moral and ethical quandaries, called to do things and make decisions no one should have to. They “take the moral excrement of others,” as Byer puts it, and do the dirty work no one else wants to do. He describes them as sin-eaters.
During the Middle Ages, people used to place food and drink next to the recent dead. Their sins were said to transfer to the food. The sin-eater was someone who would come along, typically a beggar, then through prayer would eat the bread and drink the ale and through the ritual, remove the sins from the dying/dead person and take them onto himself.
“Do you ever not care?” –Aaron
The answer to Aaron’s question above is “no.” In The Bourne Legacy, there is no sense of mystery, only information stingily withheld creating a narrative vacuum. There is an endless series of lethal CYA measures, repercussions from much more interesting movies, that masquerades as a plot. There is, as one character describes, a “bullshit scavenger hunt” which adds little to the mythos, so that in the end, the viewer still doesn’t care.