"You were given a Ferrari, and you people treated it like a lawnmower."
Aaron Cross is Jason Bourne 2.0. Another C.I.A. black-ops agent, a member of Operation: Outcome. Similar to Bourne's former club, Treadstone, Outcome seems pretty cruel. They've sent Cross out to Alaska to train, or perhaps it's a mission. It's never really explained. He swims in sub-zero temperature water, then fights off some wolves, before trekking across some mountains. Eventually, he makes his way to a cabin deep into the wilderness where he runs into Number Three, a nameless agent played by Oscar Isaac. Discourse ensues, each trying to discern the other's identity and assignment. Agents are pretty mysterious.
In the Continental United States, it's revealed that Bourne is currently on the lam, avoiding the authorities. When THE BOURNE LEGACY was greenlit, many were curious as to how the studio would approach the introduction of a new lead character. Having this film run congruently with the story of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM was an interesting and intelligent way of keeping Matt Damon's much lauded persona in the action without actually having him present. It also avoids the need of setting up the universe since we're already intimately familiar. We're shown snippets of Bourne in the news, his name dropped in passing, but that's it. News gets around to Eric Byer (Edward Norton), a retired Air Force Colonel, and one of the brains behind the clandestine enterprise. Fearing that Bourne will blow the door open on the C.I.A's illegal undertakings, Byer executes a kill order on all active agents in the field. Like I said, cruel.
Cross is an improved version of Bourne thanks to genetic enhancements. We're told by Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) that Cross has had adjustments to two chromosomes, heightening his brain function, senses, and physical attributes. Regular humans are also only a few chromosomes away from today's apes. This has nothing to do with the film; it's simply a remarkable fact. I wonder what we'd look like with four or more being altered? Thanks to his improvements, Cross is able to hear a drone zeroing in on his position. He escapes the cabin moments before it's obliterated by a missile. Throughout the film, Cross is seen ingesting some pills, concealed in a necklace. These "chems" act as a virus (but a good one), a delivery system for his genetic amendments.
Having exhausted his supply, and wanting to stay augmented, Cross tracks down Shearing in hopes that she'll provide some answers, as well as the means to a new stash. Herein lies the major problem. The first three films dealt with an amnesiac assassin and his search for his identity and the company that made him so; LEGACY largely focusses its 135-minutes running time following a guy trying to score some drugs.
Thankfully, many of the attributes that have made the BOURNE franchise so successful are still present. LEGACY is chock-full of quick-cut, close-up fight scenes, and thrilling chase scenes. At one point, Cross scales buildings in Manila in a pursuit of Shearing, who's fleeing from the local authorities; later, the two hop aboard a motorcycle and traverse the streets, darting in and out of traffic.
Jeremy Renner takes the reins from Matt Damon and does so nicely. Renner has had a pretty meteoric rise since an Oscar nominated turn in Kathryn Bigelow's HURT LOCKER in 2008. Since then, he's been heavily involved with three major franchises: BOURNE, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, and Marvel's THE AVENGERS. There's a reason he's been such a hot commodity over the past few years. Like Damon, Renner possesses a sort of Everyman quality. At the same time, it's still believable that he's capable of delivering some pulverizing blows.
Tony Gilroy, the writer or co-writer of the first three features, continues his penning duties here, while also stepping behind the camera to direct. He does well to continue the momentum that Doug Liman (IDENTITY), and Paul Greengrass (SUPREMACY, ULTIMATUM) have established. It's certainly aided by the help that he's surrounded himself with. The supporting cast is stellar with Weisz, Norton, Isaac, Stacey Keach, and Zeljko Ivanek all resonating onscreen. Cinematographer Robert Elswit also deserves credit. His recent CV is hugely impressive: SYRIANA (2005), THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), REDBELT (2008), THE TOWN (2010), but a few. Elswit puts you right in the thick of things, up close and personal during Cross and Shearing's frantic search for refuge.
There's a slight sense of treading water here, as if Universal Pictures is banking on a Jason Bourne/Aaron Cross union a few years down the road. It predictably leaves off open-ended, a standard show for today's blockbusters. Still, THE BOURNE LEGACY does enough to continue the tradition that was established before it. The memory loss is gone, as is most of the mystery, but Bourne 2.0 appears to be here for the long run.