The Bourne Legacy is the latest installment in what seems to now be an ongoing series of movies about Jason Bourne and the world he inhabits. It is a direct sequel to the Bourne movies starring Matt Damon, but it focuses on a completely new set of characters, who, the movie would have its audience believe, were part of the story all along.
It’s a fun movie if your favorite part of the original Bourne trilogy was the political intrigue, science fiction undertones, and wham bang action sequences. If what you liked most about the other trilogy was the complex character at the story’s center, this latest Bourne installment will feel lacking.
it seems somewhat tiring to compare this movie to the ones that came before, but as long as Hollywood insists on doling out sequels to past hits, we have no choice but to compare new movies to their antecedents.
The Bourne Legacy includes action scenes as exciting as those in the previous three movies, and these scenes are less disorienting than those in The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. Tony Gilroy (rightly) decided that Paul Greengrass’ shaky camera work didn’t need to be part of Bourne‘s legacy (I couldn’t resist doing that at least once.) Every action scene is viscerally thrilling.
Unfortunately, these same action scenes are not as emotionally compelling as those in the first Bourne movies, because the characters in them are not nearly as interesting. Renner and Weisz are do a fine job with the material they’re given, but they’re not given much with which to work. Renner’s Aaron Cross wants “chems,” so he can keep his super strength and intelligence, and Weisz’s Dr. Shearing wants to stay alive and be left alone. The other movies had much richer characters. Jason Bourne wanted identity and atonement. Marie wanted a better life. Pam Landy and Nicky Parsons wanted widespread justice and governmental transparency.
The Bourne Legacy gives a nod in the direction of higher ideals in a brief flashback in which Ed Norton’s Col. Byer justifies Aaron Cross’ morally questionable existence and action based on society’s supposed need for someone to sin so that everyone else doesn’t have to. It would have been great if this idea would have been developed further, thereby expanding the moral universe of the first three films as the filmmakers expanded the narrative universe. However, this is the only mention of this moral conflict in the movie’s entire two hour and fifteen minute run time. Hopefully, this theme will be developed in further sequels. (Yes, there will be more Bourne movies.)
The Bourne Legacy is primarily concerned with investigating further the whos, whens, wheres. whys, and hows of the existence of Jason Bourne and the other super soldiers like him. The Bourne Legacy is 135 minutes of running and jumping very quickly throughout this narrative world, establishing its scope and defining its limits.
Mostly, this “universe expansion” is done via answers and explanation. I find this to be restrictive instead of expansive. With every reveal about how these Jason Bourne-like super soldiers were created and serviced, I felt like the world I was entering into when I sat in that theater was getting smaller. The answers given were, to me, unsatisfactory and removed much of the mystique about Jason Bourne and his abilities.
It takes a particularly adept creative mind to give answers that create new possibilities. In recent years, audiences have been offered a cascade of cinematic mythologies studios hope audiences will buy into and shell out money for. Most often, these mythologies have proven disappointing to the degree that they provide answers. The trick, it seems, is to provide further questions without ruling out the possibility of answers. To give two examples from the same creative mind, Damon Lindelof, Lost faltered when it began to give answers. Prometheus failed because it says there are no answers. The same is true of the Star Wars saga. People loved it before it was packed to the Gungan gills with “midicholrians” and Oedipal angst.
The best answers encourage better questions. That’s why Christ’s death and resurrection are both a wonderful answer to a long-asked question about how the world can be reconciled to God and the entry point into a whole new universe of questions about what it means to live as redeemed people in a being redeemed world. It’s the only mythology (and I don’t mean that in the “false story” sense of the word) worth one’s faith, not that anyone is putting their faith in the Bourne franchise or Lost or Star Wars, right?
In conclusion, I would like to admit though, that the “True Myth,” as C.S. Lewis termed Christianity, isn’t nearly as good an action flick as The Bourne Legacy.