As far as modern franchises go, the Jason Bourne movies have a strange disposition. While each film is interconnected, they stand on their own, never at the mercy of setting up a sequel, instead they just add new kinks to their own existing storylines. Saying that, however, each Bourne movie follows the same general formula, creating, in the end, the same basic movie. Thankfully, these popcorn flicks are handled with intelligence and consistency.
Despite a few missteps, The Bourne Legacy — which attempts to reinvigorate the series sans star Matt Damon — fits nicely into this existing cinematic universe. While director Paul Greengrass — who directed the last two movies — is no longer around, we’re in no less capable hands with director Tony Gilroy, who had a hand in the screenplays of each previous Bourne film. What’s curious about Legacy is that we’re not left with a reboot or a reimagining. Instead, this fourth entry starts around the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) (or toward the end of The Bourne Supremacy (2004) if you really want to get pedantic and complicated), branching off into its own story — and conceivably its own set of sequels.
The film’s premise is that the government has a whole cadre of genetically-enhanced superspies — much like Jason Bourne — stashed away around the world. With Bourne running amok, the government decides to get rid of the superspies — and anyone with knowledge of their existence. That’s fine, except they let one of these guys — Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) — get away, and he (of course) decides to get to the bottom of why his bosses are trying to kill him. This leads to the usual action scenes — a lot of narrow escapes, fist fights and even a motorcycle chase — but there’s something missing. The scope of this installment is narrowed. We’re no longer traipsing around in many exotic locations (we get Alaska, the Midwest and the Phillipines), and action is pruned down — for better or worse — in favor of more story. The plot — which is specifically focused on Cross and his need for medication that’s supplied by his higher-ups — seems smaller and less urgent.
But the point of Legacy — and really each of the films that came before it — is to expand its own mythos, and within these modest aims, the movie works. At this point, that’s the real draw since the Bourne flicks have turned into more of an action movie soap opera than anything else. Seemingly by accident, each film has ventured into darker territory, with Legacy being no exception as the government baddies become much more nefarious and conspiratorial, right down to mind control. And without the guilt-ridden everyman superspy that is Jason Bourne, we’re left with an angrier hero — and an angrier film. But we also get a more broken protagonist with a sadder story, differences which are nice since Gilroy and company aren’t simply fobbing off the same characters and motivations with different actors. There’s a genuine attempt at making something new with this film while keeping in the spirit of what came before it. For Bourne fans, this is as much as they should ask from a change so drastic. Rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences.