Review: The intelligence of The Bourne Legacy

The new Bourne film may not have any Bourne in it, but it’s a great continuation of the story.

In the new film, we stop following Jason Bourne, who has clearly, finally completely disappeared from the face of the earth.

Instead, we’re tracking Aaron Cross, agent #5 of “The Program,” the clandestine government operation which was seeking a way to create super special-ops soldiers. The Bourne films, which starred Matt Damon in the title role were all about Bourne’s attempt to escape the program, and the various times that he was located and had to run once more. The films centered around the action, including fight, gunplay, and chase scenes among these supernatural soldiers. There were also pretty girls involved, as usual.

This fourth film, however, is a bit more cerebral. Many of the themes are still the same: The story discusses things like destiny, the fallacy of dominion, and the danger of secrecy, and for the villains, it’s very much a matter of reaping what dangers one sows. However, this film gives us a much stronger look behind the scenes, and interestingly, nearly demonizes Bourne.

As the film takes place at least partly during the events of the third film, The Bourne Ultimatum – we get to see several scenes which disclose the parallel, even down to Aaron watching the same news broadcast about Bourne’s involvement that Bourne watched in the third film, and a few scenes in which the morality of the actions of the lawyer who helped Bourne in Ultimatum are discussed by the government officials in charge of the projects. This includes a very short scene in which Joan Allen has reprised the role, marking the divergence of the timelines of the two films (since by that scene Bourne has already vanished beneath the waters of the East River to disappear forever).

What makes this interesting (and creates the demonization of the Bourne character) is that we can clearly see from this point of view that all of the things happening here are a result of Bourne pushing the officials. Dozens of agents, hundreds of civilian workers – including a bunch of police and security officers, and an unclear number of innocent bystanders all lose their lives because Bourne refuses to turn himself in. The blame still lay with the officials who created The Program, but it’s still clear that if it weren’t for Bourne’s betrayal, the program could have continued, and many of the agents, including Cross, were happy to be in The Program and satisfied with their lot in life.

In addition, the altered point of view of the film – we follow the officials making their nerve wracking decisions just as much as we follow Cross and the pretty scientist he escaped with – gives us a lot more detail about the world that Bourne and Cross come from. By way of exposition in both settings, we learn a lot about the science that created the super soldiers, and many of the details that were left unexplained in the first three films are detailed here – allowing the world to feel much more verisimilar than it ever did before and offering an idea of how a conspiracy like this could have happened.

In addition, the character of Cross, well-played by Jeremy Renner is much more likeable than Bourne. Tasked with the difficult job of taking over an action film franchise, Renner has made it his own by creating a character in Cross that really stands out from Bourne. This is not just ‘Bourne with a new name’.

Indeed, Aaron Cross is a different character with a much different path. He begins the film happy to be in the program, and eager to use his skills. Having begun life as an unintelligent man, with very few prospects, The Program was his way of becoming something more than he otherwise could have been. His program was different from Bourne’s – Bourne was in ‘Treadstone’, which was seemingly based around brainwashing and extreme training, while Cross is in ‘Blackbriar’, which uses drugs to create the super soldiers- but the film takes pains to show that Cross is mostly on the same path as Bourne, just more successful.

He counters the previous protagonists easy apathy with a general empathy, and he seems to even have a sense of humor and a quick smile, while Bourne rarely veered from the totally serious. This makes the character both more compelling and more sympathetic. Renner is also better with the choreographed gunplay and fighting, though that could be a difference in the choreographer, as well.

Rachel Wiesz is also excellent in the film. While at points her character grates a bit as a very typical damsel in distress, she also has her moments of heroism, and these are especially rousing, as she does not have the physical advantages of her super rescuer.

There are, of course, still some holes in the plot, this is an action film, after all, and some devices will have to be entertained, but there is definitely more of a real sci-fi sense here compared to its predecessors, which simply left everything unexplained. If you enjoyed the Bourne films, and want to get s better sense of the world of the films, this film is perfect. If you haven’t seen those films, well, it’s still a great, high production value, action film with lots of explosions and gunfights.

The Bourne Legacy is in theaters now.