What I've enjoyed about the first three Bourne movies is that they were smart action movies. They weren't just showing big-budget fight scenes and showing off their money. They gave us an engaging story about a special agent gone rogue because of amnesia and how he tries to get his life back. The same can be said about The Bourne Legacy. As The Bourne Identity started off on a very personal, concentrated plot-line, The Bourne Legacy follows suit, but with a very different agent altogether.
Where Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is frantically discovering who he is and slowly regaining his humanity, Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross knows exactly who he is, what he can do, but he too is in a journey to find his humanity. Where Jason Bourne is detached, confused, and picking up the pieces, Aaron Cross is personable, sees the bigger picture, and tying up loose ends. The contrast is wonderful because it gives us a totally different character to root for, a different side of a Treadstone agent. Where Jason Bourne was scrambling to put things together, Aaron Cross is calling the shots.
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The Bourne Legacy starts in the middle of the events of Bourne Supremacy. Aaron is an agent in the middle of a mission when Treadstone's plug has been pulled because of the events of Bourne Supremacy. In doing so, the agency begins tying up lose ends and remove everyone involved in the project from existence. Aaron Cross makes it through and is now in a race to save his life from the agency that made him with the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist and geneticist who becomes key in his escape from the clutches of Treadstone.
On his tail is Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who has past dealings with Cross, and is the capable operations head of the mission to keep Treadstone from the public. It becomes an exciting and thrilling cat-and-mouse chase from the United States to the streets of Manila.
While the first act of the film is filled with intrigue and a complex premise (not complicated, big difference), the story is relatively simple. There are no real spoilers for The Bourne Legacy. No surprise twists that so many films seem wont to do these days and that gives it plus points. It's a straight-up story with a clear direction and doesn't try to mislead you. It gives you breathing space to really get to know Aaron Cross and Dr. Martha Shearing and develop the bond that grows between them and builds a space for you to want them to succeed.
What makes The Bourne Legacy smart, like its predecessors, is that it's methodical and realistic in its portrayal of spy work and doesn't rely on gadgets and technology to solve a problem like the James Bond films do (circa Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore). Everyone, from Cross to Byer, are professionals and are damned good at what they do and its thrilling to see how they get the job done. I say the movie is methodical but don't take that as it being boring and by the numbers.
I don't want to give The Bourne Legacy spoilers but the Philippines is a major story plot and the last half of the film transpires on our shores; and while they do find themselves in the slums of Tondo, it is a breath of fresh air to be viewed without the context of extreme poverty. I thought it was an accurate depiction of the country without the need to moralize or comment on it. This has nothing to do with the movie itself but as a Filipino, I feel the need to point this out.
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Renner is charismatic and unbelievably human, despite the extraordinariness of Aaron Cross, which makes him someone you can root for. Weisz is pitch perfect and has the amazing quality of being beautiful and still being believably smart enough to be a PhD holder and a capable scientist. Smart has always been sexy. Norton is excellent as Byer is relentless in his pursuit, straddling the line between overzealous in his patriotism and uncaring. He is not one-dimensionally evil.
The Bourne Legacy is quite a departure from the first three movies but it is a welcome one because it does not erase the whole mythology of the Bourne franchise. In fact, it elevates it into a sort of urban legend, and finds its place without overshadowing the first but making a stand on its own two feet.
The legacy lives on and Renner's Cross is more than able to bring it to somewhere delightful and entertaining.
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