Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

By Edwin Davies

August 21, 2012

Strange, you don't look like Matt Damon.

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Robert Ludlum only wrote three novels featuring the character of Jason Bourne (1980's The Bourne Identity, 1986's The Bourne Supremacy and 1990's The Bourne Ultimatum) yet the character has had a remarkably virile literary and cinematic afterlife. Following the success of Doug Liman's 2002 film adaptation of the Bourne Identity (which admittedly bore almost no resemblance to the original novel) and with the permission of Ludlum's estate, Eric Van Lustbader revived the character for a subsequent five novels, with a sixth due later this year, continuing the story of the character far beyond what his creator intended. Coupled with the success of the film franchise, Jason Bourne is now a far more popular character two decades after Ludlum stopped writing about him than he ever was when he did.

It seems somewhat appropriate then that the fourth instalment of the film series should take its name from Lustbader's first Bourne novel, since the creation of that novel and this film version (which, again, has little to no relation to its namesake) are oddly analogous. Following the success of the original trilogy, director Paul Greengrass, who helmed Supremacy and Ultimatum, decided that he did not wish to return, and whilst the series had already survived a change of director once before, the subsequent decision of Matt Damon not to continue without Greengrass seemed like a fatal blow. Whilst Damon was already an established star - not to mention an Oscar-winner - before he appeared in The Bourne Identity, the success of the film fundamentally altered the way in which he was perceived, whilst his considerable charisma and physicality played a major role in turning Bourne into the archetypal action hero of the 21st century: a ruthlessly efficient killer haunted by his past. Even though he did not create the character, he was vital to the success of those films and became inextricably linked to the character of Jason Bourne. With several of the key elements responsible for the series' success now gone, others would have to take over the films, much as Lustbader had done with the novels.


Rather than try to reboot the series from the beginning or continue the present chronology with a new actor playing Bourne, writer-director Tony Gilroy (who wrote or co-wrote all the previous films in the series) offers a somewhat novel approach by creating a film that is less a sequel than a spin-off, albeit one based around a character who did not exist in any of the preceding films. Set around the same time as the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, the story revolves around Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a member of a shady government program similar to the one that created Bourne, though in the case of Cross and his compatriots their mental and physical training has been augmented by chemical manipulation. After Bourne's actions threaten to uncover this program, the men in charge of it (played by Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Scott Glenn) decide that it is time to cut their losses, and they begin killing off all their active agents along with anyone connected to the program.

Cross survives the attempt on his life, but without his meds he fears he will start to lose his mental and physical abilities, so he tracks down Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who was responsible for monitoring the progress of agents in the program and who survives a separate but related attempt on her life. Together, they set out to try to find a solution to Cross' chemical issues whilst avoiding detection by those pursuing them, creating a film that is an odd hybrid of The Fugitive and Flowers for Algernon.

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