The Bourne Legacy: A Treadstone Re-tread

It feels a bit unfair to judge The Bourne Legacy against the three earlier, superior Bourne movies, but if the filmmakers didn’t want us to do that, they shouldn’t have put Bourne in the title and opened the film with The Bourne Identity‘s opening shot of a body floating in the water. The Bourne Legacy is entertaining enough, but it feels like an unnecessary re-hash. It doesn’t tell us anything new about nefarious government agencies, covert black-ops, and the disconcerting ease with which those in charge are willing to eliminate their own people.

The moments that pop the most in Legacy are the ones which intersect with Jason Bourne’s storyline – glimpses of David Strathairn and Joan Allen; the culmination of the hit against a journalist at Waterloo Station, so audaciously staged in The Bourne Ultimatum. None of the agency bigwigs in Legacy feels as memorable as Pam Landy, and nothing in the film comes close to the fine-tuned cat-and-mouse thrills of the Waterloo Station hit.  One improvement on the original series is the hero’s requisite female companion. Played by Rachel Weisz, bio-chemist Marta serves a more specific purpose in this film than Franka Potente’s bohemian free spirit in The Bourne Identity.

One of the chief pleasures of The Bourne Identity is how well Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne’s surprise at his own lethal skills and abilities; he discovers them right along with us. There’s no sense of discovery in the new film, since we pretty much already know what Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross is capable of.  What we have instead is the threat of the loss of his abilities, an awareness of what Aaron might revert to if he’s deprived of the chemical enhancements that make him a super soldier. It’s a bit of backstory that distinguishes Aaron Cross from Jason Bourne and works well with Renner’s less subtle, brawnier persona.  Even after three films, Jason Bourne feels like a rather appealing enigma, whereas Legacy’s blunter approach tells me most of what I want to know about Aaron Cross, so that the inevitable sequels will likely feel even more unnecessary than this film.

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6 Responses to The Bourne Legacy: A Treadstone Re-tread

  1. Ashley says:

    My dad’s chief complaint about the original Bourne movies was how boring the female sidekick was. “In the book she has a doctorate and she’s really smart and she knows how to get them out of bad situations!” he said, so he’ll be glad to have the smart lady back. I’m sorry this didn’t turn out well, but I’ll probably see it anyway, since I like Jeremy Renner a lot.

  2. Ashley says:

    I did see it, and I completely agree with your assessment, though for me the most interesting parts of the film were the ones where the various US government agents are trying to track down Aaron and Marta by cobbling together surveillance footage from toll plazas, forestry satellites, airport security cameras, and so forth. I think it’s a really interesting depiction of how surveillance culture works: all those cameras can be used for nefarious purposes even if they’re not part of one large, integrated system built by a single “Big Brother” agency.

    But to talk about the structure; if I had to sum the movie up in a few words it would be “chase chase chase end.” There really wasn’t much of a plot trajectory–not much sense of what the consequences would be for anyone if Marta and Aaron failed to reach Manila. You could say this about the first three Bourne movies, too, I guess, accept that in those films we had a much better sense of 1) the vast government conspiracy that had produced, and was now trying to eliminate, Jason Bourne, and 2) Jason Bourne’s own terror and confusion. (This, I think, is largely the result of Matt Damon’s simply being a better actor than Jeremy Renner.) And while I loved the whole “Flowers for Algernon” twist, I don’t think they did enough with it to make it a compelling reason for us to want to stick with this character.

  3. Wyrd Smythe says:

    I’ll second Ashley’s dad’s complaints. In the three books, she’s his wife, they have kids, and she’s a very sharp and capable lady. But then, the books usually are much better than the movie.

    • popgoddess says:

      So true!

      I didn’t know about Bourne’s wife and kids; it’s interesting that the movies took the the lone-wolf route instead.

      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        The books are hugely different than the movies, especially after the first. The first is at least identifiably the source of the movie; the other two have no connection to the respective movies other than the title. (Kind of like some of the later Bond flicks.)

  4. Ashley says:

    My dad is right about most things, particularly in his preference for smart and capable ladies 🙂

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