The Bourne Legacy (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

The Bourne Legacy Jeremy Renner green light

I’m “biast” (pro): adore Renner and Weisz; loved the previous Bourne movies

I’m “biast” (con): skeptical about the Bond-esque recasting; wasn’t sure this franchise needs to continue

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Robert Ludlum’s supersecret CIA supersoldier program is back: so you could call this a reTreadstone. Not that The Bourne Legacy is based on any actual Ludlum novel — no, it was merely “inspired” by Ludlum. Which means, basically, that this is Bourne fan fiction. But it’s the rare sort of good fanfic: utterly inconsequential, of course, but a whole lotta fun. It’s a turn-your-brain-off popcorn flick for people who don’t like to turn our brains off just because we’re at The Movies. There’s silly amusement to be had in matching everything here up with the Bourne stuff we’ve seen before, which keeps your neofannish cortex busy. And also in hashing over the political, scientific, and personal issues raised here by speculation about the military-pharmaceutical complex: that operates on the culturegeek lobe. (Yes, that sort of stuff is fun, for some of us.) Plus there’s lots of exhilarating action — the across-the-rooftops foot chase that morphs into an extended motorcycle pursuit in Manila is aces — to get your adrenaline pumping: pure lizard-brain stuff. Bonus: Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz are superhot. Which makes this basically the ultimate example of why we go to the movies: to see beautiful people doing exciting things while we imagine ourselves having sex with them.

Yes, I’ve used that line before. Hey, if the movies can repeat themselves, I’m gonna do it once in a while, too.

This is like Back to the Future 2 except without the time travel. It’s all happening sideways of The Bourne Ultimatum, which was the best of the Matt Damon Bourne trilogy anyway, so it’s all good. As Damon’s Bourne is on the loose and making a public menace of himself — this all happens in brief clips from that movie; Damon hasn’t returned — all the wonky-wonk government types are freaking out because the supersoldier program that created Bourne is only the beginning of it. There’s tons of other above-top-secret mad-science games going on, and they can’t have this all showing up on CNN, now, can they? (It’s cute that anyone thinks CNN is journalistically important or influential. Maybe that makes this science fiction more than brain- and body-enhancing genetic-engineering drugs do.) So they work fast to shut down the supersoldier program that Aaron Cross (Renner: Marvel’s The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) is part of. Naturally, he escapes all their attempts to exterminate him — hello! he’s a supersoldier — and then hooks up with Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz: 360, Agora), one of the nerds doing the science that makes him possible. He needs her because– well, you’ll see.

Really, see it. Legacy is worth your time in huge part for Renner and Weisz, because once they get together, about halfway through the film, everything that had been just kinda sorta passably entertaining snaps into sharp, dazzling focus. Separately, these are two intense, fascinating actors who are always, always riveting onscreen — together, there’s a zing of electricity between them that is absolutely thrilling, and suddenly ratchets the film up into the realm of unmissable. It’s not a chemistry of the romantic sort — thank you, writer-director Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Michael Clayton), for not tossing in a random gauzy sex scene outta nowhere, and hence leaving some room for our fanfic *sigh* — but of the action-buddy sort. Of the “How did no one think to put these two actors together before?” sort, that’s all about the very movie-movie ecstasy of seeing two actors click so well with each other. (And now that action-buddy is out of the way, someone needs to make the smart romantic comedy with these two, cuz that would be amazing.)

Between the Weisz-Renner combo and the scorching, spare performances of Edward Norton (The Invention of Lying, Pride and Glory) and Donna Murphy (Tangled, The Fountain) as the wonks and the tantalizing hints of really complex stuff bubbling under the surface, I could have watched another hour of this movie, which is already over two hours, not that I noticed. (There’s a Flowers for Algernon motif that’s only just touched on here — Cross does not want to go back to his unenhanced self — and that I would have loved to see explored more, except it’s just a tangent and not really relevant to the larger story. But still: if someone wants to remake Charly, please cast Renner.) I wish all disposable popcorn movies were this enjoyable. There’s really no reason why they can’t be.

share and enjoy
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
clyde halll
clyde halll
Fri, Nov 30, 2012 1:31pm

This is one of those movies that I can truly say I will download and watch. I will not waste my money on buying this movie. The Bourne serious should have died at the end of the third one and when they made this one they should have used the same guy. I say this movie is worthless. Its hollywoods way of making money. Its not for fans that is for sure. Hollywood is trying to make it so they can continue adding on to this serious like spiderman. I say hollywood should stop worrying about money and make a good film. I mean really if you are going to waste your money on creating a movie then at least make the movie where the viewer’s will be happy that they spent their money on watching it. Dont destroy a good serious by creating a movie that dont even belong in its serious.

Mara Katz
Wed, Dec 12, 2012 2:46am

I disagree about the definition of “good” fanfiction. For me, good fanfic is something that explores an area where there isn’t much in the way of canon, makes a lot of sense, and makes you think about the original story in a new way.