There are a few movies that are so great that I remember where I was the first time I watched them. Those are the movies that I can quote a large portion of dialogue with when I watch them because I’ve seen them so many times. They’re just that good. You have a few pop into your mind when I say that, I’m sure.
The Bourne Identity was one of those movies. I have a fond memory of watching it with friends for the first time in a small apartment, and then again, and then again, until I finally just purchased my own copy. The following two movies in the trilogy followed a similar pattern. The plot was engaging, the films exciting, the dialogue sharp and amazing, the action sequences well choreographed (remember that car chase from the first movie?). Moreover, there was a deeper message in the story, a through-line that weaved its way across all three films and required you to see all three to truly appreciate its depth.
Call me cynical, but when three movies are of such high calibre, I’m suspect of a fourth that boasts a parallel story arc, or a completely different take on the story. This cynicism is the reaction with which I met the first trailer for the Bourne Legacy. Knowing that Ludlam’s original series has continued with some success, though, I decided I’d give it a try at some point. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve when some family decided to watch the copy that they’d received as a gift that I finally got around to watching the film.
And I’ll foreshadow the rest of this review by saying up front that staying awake through the movie was an issue for me.
Expecting any sort of parallel to the original Bourne story arc will leave you with profound disappointment. This movie is a completely different story line that is only loosely based on the same premise, this time with yet another incarnation of the covert assassination program that produced Jason Bourne. I already took issue with the premise, because having the program killed and then secretly resurrected was believable in the first three films. Having a third spin off defies believability, even if this is supposedly one of the first versions of the program. What’s worse, this time (and I won’t tell you the name of the program’s incarnation, I’ll just say that compared to “Treadstone” or “Black Briar”, it’s very bland) the program is designed to make the operatives highly advanced, bordering on super-soldiers, by keeping them on a steady diet of medications. Aaron Cross is in need of this medication, and spends a good part of the film attempting to find it after his superiors begin killing off his fellow agents in an attempt to tie up loose ends when the Bourne debacle begins to occur.
The premise itself, then, tinkers with the original story line by assuming that Aaron Cross’ program is the first, and thus making Treadstone and Black Briar seem less believable. This is in contradiction to the title, “Legacy,” which implies something that comes after. What’s most tragic is the manner in which the director has attempted to tie this story in with the original films by cutting away to scenes from the other movies in an attempt to make you see where this film’s events take place with respect to the other three, connections which felt random and completely contrived, almost as though they were tossed in as an afterthought to pay respect to the other films. Characters from the original movies are toyed with, leaving us with a different disposition for Pamela Landy, and calling into question who was loyal to whom. Again, completely contrived attempts to tie this movie in with the rest at the expense of the character development from the other films.
The story for this film moves hopelessly slow, with long sections of poorly written dialogue punctuated by brief and violent action sequences that felt far more gratuitous and far more poorly directed than those of the other three movies. Both lead actors turn in disappointing performances, showing difficulty in finding any motivation for lengthy sequences of dialogue that inevitably fall flat.
Perhaps I’m erring in making a comparison between the Bourne Legacy and its predecessors. That’s difficult not to do, however, when the movie is a continuation of the series. It just seems a shame to attach the name of such an excellent film franchise to such a hopelessly under-performing movie. This is a film that was made purely to earn profit from the excellent craft of others by keeping a name. Even if the goal were simply to make an action or espionage film, this would have been a poor endeavor, and there’s certainly no higher message to the film, at least not that I could find.
If you’re a fan of the previous Bourne films, then I would encourage you to not watch the Bourne Legacy. You don’t want the bad taste in your mouth. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this film for any viewers at all because, when the goal of any creative endeavor is simply to make more money at the expense of good craft, I have a hard time justifying supporting that.
Go back and (re-)watch the first three, instead.