The Bourne Legacy is not so much a continuation of the franchise as it is an expansion. Which, in many ways is a really interesting way to go about continuing a franchise especially when that franchise consists of secret government missions and secret agents that are the results of tinkering with the genetic make-up of those humans. Of course there was never just one of them. There was no way they stopped at the prototype, especially when despite his flaws he turned out to be so impressive. Still, while it is exciting to see this universe broaden how the actual film executes itself begs the question if it was really all that necessary. See, the most interesting parts of the this latest Bourne are indeed the few parts where our original hero is mentioned and we see the folds of the two stories beginning to overlap. It is an interesting approach, it is an interesting idea, but the critical component that needed to be interesting is what fails us here. Whereas Jason Bourne was a man on the run with no idea as to who or what he was the new central character Aaron Cross, played with intense gravitas by the credible Jeremy Renner has no such amnesia-like symptoms to cope with. Cross knows exactly who he is and what he's doing. In fact, he embraces it. I was a latecomer to the Bourne franchise in the first place. I never really understood the fascination with the first entry in the series, but I found its predecessors constantly improving on the intriguing set-up that first film had. In The Bourne Legacy we are supposed to see the ramifications of what Jason Bourne started, but instead we end up longing for the days when the task wasn't just a mission, but a personal journey.

Outcome agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) and
Colonel Eric Byer (Ed Norton) discuss a mission.
Legacy picks up somewhere in the middle of Ultimatum when Matt Damon's Bourne is following up with a writer for a big time news publication that is doing a series on Bourne and his origins at Treadstone. When it becomes clear that the agency has lost control of the situation including Bourne along with one of their own, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen in a brief cameo) who now sees the struggle and humanity in Bourne's mission. In the wake of this scandal the CIA and the man in charge of creating these programs, a retired USAF colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decide to off all of their assets in their multiple black ops programs including the agents in operation Outcome, one of which is Mr. Cross. When the film opens it first gives a decidedly nice reference to that wonderful opening shot from Identity before delving into the fantastic first act of the film. In saying that, the first half of the film truly is engaging. It parallels between Renner's Aaron Cross in what looks to be the Alaskan wilderness for what we assume is some kind of training exercise. While there he encounters another Outcome agent (Oscar Isaac) where their initial exchange is a testament to director Tony Gilroy's ability to stage a tense conversation that may or may not imply more than we have already been informed of. The pacing is great and the cinematography is gorgeous and while this introduction to Renner is criss-crossed with our introduction to Byer it makes it all the more engrossing. We are given the insider and outsider points of view. We see Norton, as great a presence as he is, commanding a room and doing what is necessary to achieve said goal. Gilroy then demonstrates a skilled hand in the action scenes as well in giving Cross an intelligent way of alluding certain death. From that point on it is what we've come to expect from the Bourne films: a chase film with layers.

Cross finds it more troubling than he expected to rescue
his good doctor.
In Operation Outcome the agents are given blue and green pills to enhance their physical and mental abilities. In wiping out the agents of this operation Byer also has to get rid of the scientists that handle the Outcome agents. They chemically brainwash one of them to go in and kill his colleagues then himself, the only survivor being Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, in a terrific mainstream turn who ends up being the real heart of the film). In one of the more truly affecting and horrific scenes in the film these executions happen with blunt brutality and give the viewer a jolt (especially given the recent events of the Aurora theater shooting). It is cold blooded and sickening to see a man kill with no emotion behind his eyes while his victims beg to be spared. As is necessary for the story though, after escaping his intended death Cross needs his "meds" to continue existing has he has now become accustomed to these heightened states of mental and physical capacities. In doing so he comes to the aid of the only surviving scientist that will have access to the tools necessary to viral off the pills. The film sets up Cross with the advantage of being unknown to Shearing's pursuers while the script allows for the details to slowly strip away the truth of the situation to Byer and his cronies. It is up to the point when our two protagonists enter Manilla that the film had me. I was good with it, great even, happy that the tension was consistent and if I wasn't going to be as invested in the journey of Aaron Cross as I was Jason Bourne at least the character was given a personality by its actor and given the opportunity to embrace his role rather than be unsure of it all. It was as The Bourne Legacy felt it necessary to have a bombastic climax to the film by including foot and motorcycle chase scenes that feel nothing short of forced that I gave up on it.

Dr. Shearing (Rachel Weisz) administers tests to the agents
in the governments Outcome operation.
I was enthusiastic for this new film in the tradition of above average spy movies. The Bourne films set a new standard for the action film by adding some real brains to the ordeal and while I wouldn't call Legacy a regression at all it does tend to lean more on what has come before in the series rather than moving the ideas the earlier chapters installed, forward. This is a gripping world and one with plenty of room for expansion and while writer and director Tony Gilroy (who also penned the scripts for the first three films) shows great promise early on the whole thing dissolves into standard action set pieces that have no justification behind them other than to see a few cool moves on a motorcycle. What the movie does have going for it though is clearly a present idea of where Cross's story can go and where it might collide with Bourne's. There is a nice little bit towards the beginning of the film that could hint at some type of connection and I want the series to continue if not to explore where Cross and Dr. Shearing end up but also to see how the FBI investigation of Landy and Vosen (David Strathairn) comes around with Bourne having exposed Treadstone and Blackbriar. How will Norton's character fit into it all and will there be some kind of definitive conclusion to all of these story lines that have now just multiplied. Likely there won't but I'm sure Universal will keep breathing life into the franchise as long as it makes money. If they can team Damon and Renner up in the next one as the lone survivors of these programs gone wrong we could be in for something great. The cast here raises the bar and Gilroy is plenty talented but seems to have stretched himself a little thin taking on double duty. Get Paul Greengrass back, combine the casts and create the ultimate super spy thriller. That sounds like a real way to leave a legacy.

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