After four movies in the Jason Bourne franchise, the only real thing we need to know about Treadstone is that it’s bad, it’s embarrassing to the American government and it’s a PR nightmare that needs to be erased.
So why do we need “The Bourne Legacy” to tediously fill in the details in the same dry, gritty, copycat style as though it were 2+ hours of deleted footage from the Bourne trilogy?
“The Bourne Legacy” is an absurd film bogged down with an endless arsenal of uninteresting characters, pseudo-science jargon and strictly serious attitudes. It’s about as ridiculous as a Bond film but hardly any fun.
It follows Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another super soldier who isn’t in the same black-ops program as Bourne, doesn’t come in contact with him, doesn’t know him and has nothing to do with him at all. The people chasing him indirectly come in contact with some of the operatives tailing Bourne, but that’s about it.
We meet Cross wandering the outskirts of Alaska because, “I missed my check in by four days, and now I’m on this scavenger hunt.” The CIA has a very strict tardy policy.
They’ve been controlling all the Not-Treadstone agents with pills that enhance their DNA. Cross is on a regiment of Blues and Greens, and if he doesn’t get a new prescription before long, he’ll relapse. He only sounds a little like a junky when he shouts these colors at people.
Unfortunately for him, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) has sent swarms of spies to erase anyone who has ever heard of Not-Treadstone, and Cross’s nearest pharmacy is in the Philippines. So naturally he and a beautiful biochemist (Rachel Weisz) go there and get chased by more cops and spies.
If there’s a downside to what Paul Greengrass did with “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” it’s that now every action movie has to be a “photo-realistic” experience. “Legacy” uses the jump cuts, shaky cam, quick zooms, sweeping vistas and photo splices that Greengrass used to excess, but here it’s just a template. The film wrongly assumes that if it uses the same frenetic cinematography that it will remain Greengrass’s clarity. In “Legacy’s” closing sequence combining rooftop parkour and a motorcycle chase, director Tony Gilroy photographs from odd POV angles, from behind whirring cars and buses and in claustrophobic positions as to deny the viewer any sense of coherent space.
Gilroy clutters his screenplay as much as his frame. “Legacy” has a remarkably talky, science-y script that lays the jargon on thick, with CIA operatives spewing acronyms and doctors inventing science as they go. The idea is to not pander to your audience, but it’s all nonsense.
Tony Gilroy has literally neglected to make an action movie. There are so many secret operatives who continually answer to a higher, more covert chain of command, and they are all bland talkers who take away screen time from Jeremy Renner. “Legacy” would rather explain the biochemistry of Cross’s genetic mutation to give him enhanced strength and reflexes than actually show those things in action.
Even when the suspense picks up, “The Bourne Legacy” is a film of absolute tedium. It denies its hero a much needed sense of humor, despite how many times he can MacGyver a nail gun out of a fire extinguisher. It plods through chase scenes with grave attention to detail. One chase scene gives Cross a 16 hour head start on the flight to the Philippines. The thundering score and rapid edits treat the segment like it’s happening instantaneously. But first we see surveillance footage of Weisz flashing her boarding pass to the TSA. Then we see Cross going through customs. Then we see more tape of her in the terminal. Then we see the fugitives get a cab. It breaks down every awful step of the process and treats each advance with the utmost consequence.
I wrote last week that by casting Renner as Aaron Cross and not the new Jason Bourne, we missed a big opportunity to build a new action franchise. But I’d hate to see one of my favorite action heroes be put through such a slog as this.
1 ½ stars