It’s difficult to say whether The Bourne Legacy is a good movie. Whether you’ll enjoy it depends on what you’re personally expecting. Consequently, this review would better serve as an explanation of what Legacy is. It’s fun. It’s also not a Bourne movie, or even a movie in the true sense of the word.
Like its predecessors, The Bourne Legacy concerns a government-trained assassin, this one named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). It turns out he was in training during the previous installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum. And in fact, the closing events of that film kick off the conflict of Legacy. That’s not really a spoiler; any plot relevance to the original trilogy is tangential at best. The writers for Legacy could have just as easily replaced the back story with something completely original, and the entire experience would probably have been vastly better for it. This is why Legacy is not a Bourne film, because it singlehandedly undoes everything the original trilogy set out to accomplish.
A consistent theme of the Bourne trilogy was that violence is a convenient but dangerous tool, with consequences that rarely stop where we want them to. This is why Bourne frequently (and sometimes literally) took great pains to avoid killing whenever possible. The contradiction of an assassin who refuses to kill was central to the development of the character.
Cross doesn’t face this dilemma. He has absolutely no qualms about killing as a means to an end, whether the recipients deserve it or not. From start to finish he remains an assassin, and so loses out on the opportunity to become something more than a flat character, which is a pity, because the potential is there. Cross possesses a vibrancy that the stoic Bourne simply never had, and it shows in his exchanges with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). They are survivors in a hopeless situation, and it is grimly entertaining to see how the two bump off each other’s frustrations, like watching the last two porcupines on earth trying to hug. Unfortunately, even that dynamic relationship is marred by the inevitable shoehorned romance (That only counts as a spoiler if you have never seen an action movie).
So which parts did I enjoy? The first two hours and fifteen minutes of it. That’s not a typo; despite the many egregious departures from the Bourne aesthetic, the dialogue is well-written and action sequences are mostly functional. After an intense chase sequence in Manila, I was all settled in for the final confrontation with big bad Eric Byer (Ed Norton). So imagine my confusion when the camera started panning out to “Extreme Ways” by Moby. I was in shock. Absolutely nothing had been resolved. Yes, I get that it’s a hook to a new trilogy, but that’s not a proper excuse. If I order a salad at a restaurant, I expect a bowl of crisp greens mixed in a tangy dressing and sweet baby tomatoes. Legacy serves the greens, but tells us the rest will arrive with the entrée.
I apologize if this reads like a condemnation of the film, because as I’ve said, it’s still a fun movie. If you liked the Bourne trilogy for its running, jumping, MacGyvering, shooting, and car chasing, those parts remain firmly intact. If you’re looking for a decent summer flick, you could do a great deal worse than Legacy. But if you’re looking for a continuation of the trilogy, or even a spiritual successor, don’t expect to find either here.