In case you missed all the memos, there is very little of Jason Bourne in The Bourne Legacy, the fourth film to spring from the novels written by the late Robert Ludlum about a highly skilled intelligence operative. If one believes the entertainment media, when director Paul Greengrass was no longer attached to Bourne IV, Matt Damon’s interest in the project ended. That meant new story and new star. Jeremy Renner became “Aaron Cross,” yet another incredibly trained and talented operative working for the shadowy forces that toil for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Cross is part of project Outcome. Like Treadstone and Blackbriar, Outcome is all about making better agents, but in this case not just through training. Chemistry is involved, and there’s a Ph.D. of biochemistry named “Dr. Marta Shearing” (Rachel Weisz) who works for a government contractor on Outcome. The idea is to use viruses to enhance the mental and physical abilities of these operatives, and then keep the enhancements alive through the use of medications. The drugs are referred to as “meds” or “chems” and the agents keep them in small containers on a chain around their neck. There’s another program called Larx, and keep that name in mind, because it will come into play later.
The film opens with Cross involved in a training exercise in the remotest part of Alaska that turns out to be a punishment of sorts. After days on his own, he winds up at a cabin with someone else who is in the program for a night of rest.
Meanwhile, the Director of Central Intelligence has come across evidence that what’s been going on with Treadstone and Blackbriar may be leaked and become public knowledge. That would result in big problems for him and others, so he goes to see retired Admiral “Turso” (Stacy Keach) who turns to retired Colonel “Byer” (Edward Norton) who works for some other government agency that seems to exist solely to clean up messes caused by the CIA. He decides that the only answer is to “burn down the entire program”, which means killing everyone involved.
Cross survives the attempt to take him out, and uses some ingenious thinking to convince his pursuers that they succeeded in killing him. He knows that the only person he may be able to trust is Doctor Shearing, who has examined him a number of times. He makes his way to her Washington D.C. area home to make contact. But she’s a target as well, even after she survives the first attempt to kill her and all the other key scientists involved in the project. He arrives in the nick of time and the race is on, to get away and deal with the problem of Cross’ supply of meds being exhausted.
The story here has very little to do with Ludlum’s works, or the novel of the same name written by the very talented Eric Van Lustbader in 2004 (I’m a major fan of his original “The Ninja” trilogy). The script, from director Tony Gilroy and his brother Dan Gilroy (husband of actress Rene Russo), is good enough to hold interest, but there are problems with it. One of which is Larx. You see, Larx is yet another program of enhancing humans for intel operations, and it’s supposedly better than Outcome, but has no connection to it. If it did, after all, it would have been burned down as well. Instead, the agent designated Larx 3 is available and just happens to be in the right part of the world to be sent after Cross and Shearer in a last-ditch effort to kill them before they disappear forever.
The action sequences are above average. Technical things, like “spook-speak”, weapons and other equipment are well done. I hate it when a movie like this features good and bad guys shooting like crazy without ever having to reload and that’s not the case here for the most part. There is a strong chase sequence to follow in the pattern of prior Bourne films, this one set in Manila which made an excellent backdrop for the pursuit. I won’t get into the science, that’s for people who are fascinated by bio-chemistry and eugenics.
Renner is good. Very believable in the lead role, both in the action sequences and in the display of betrayal and determination to survive that one would expect of such a man. Weisz is excellent. She is limited by the narrowly drawn dimensions of her role and yet she manages to deliver in every scene. Sadly, Edward Norton, who is one of my favorite actors, is not nearly as good in his role as the morally bankrupt, self-righteous patriot who will order the death of anyone he thinks jeopardizes the safety of the United States. The maniacal commitment of such a person is mostly absent from his performance, save a great scene where he’s explaining the facts of life to an Army general who doesn’t want his operatives killed. Were it not for the contrivance of the Larx 3 operative, this would have been a better film.