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Should I Watch..? 'The Bourne Legacy' (2012)

Updated on April 6, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Poster for "The Bourne Legacy"
Poster for "The Bourne Legacy" | Source

What's the big deal?

The Bourne Legacy is an action spy thriller film released in 2012 and is an attempted spin-off from the Jason Bourne trilogy. With Matt Damon stating that he was finished with the character after the third film (a decision he later reversed), a proposed fourth film had to find a new leading actor and found one in the shape of Jeremy Renner. Despite sharing the title of a Bourne novel written by Eric Van Lustbader, the film is an original story concerning Aaron Cross - a soldier genetically experimented on through a top-secret CIA research program. When Bourne's activities threaten to expose such programs, Cross must flee for his life before his paymasters decide to terminate him. Despite mixed reviews, the film went on to take $276 million worldwide - less than the two previous Jason Bourne movies. After the film's release, original star Matt Damon and former director Paul Greengrass both expressed an interest in returning to the series for further films in the future.


3 stars for The Bourne Legacy

What's it about?

With the CIA losing track of Jason Bourne in Moscow, progress continues on Operation Outcome - a top-secret research program using experimental drugs to genetically enhance the test subjects. One such subject, Aaron Cross, is on a training exercise in Alaska where he meets with another subject, exiled Outcome operative Number Three, who is impressed with the speed Aaron completed the exercise. Meanwhile, Bourne pops up in New York and threatens to expose the CIA's illegal Operations Treadstone (of which he was a participant) and Blackbriar.

With the truth almost exposed, program supervisor Eric Byer decides to immediately terminate all off-the-book research programs in order to prevent the Senate from uncovering the truth. This involves the killing of all operatives across the globe including Number Three and Number Five - Cross. Surviving a drone strike on their cabin, Cross heads back to the one person who can help him - Dr Marta Shearing who has been medically monitoring Cross for the last four years. Having already survived an attempt on her life, Marta's ignorance of how much danger she's in puts both her and Cross into danger.


What's to like?

I will get to the elephant in the room in a minute so let's focus on the positives. Actually, that means starting with the elephant - Renner gives a great central performance as Cross who is both effective in the action scenes and also possessing a troubled personality. Equally good is Weisz whose performance makes you wonder why she doesn't appear more often in films. As the bewildered scientist clearly out of her depth, she makes an excellent damsel in distress. Together, they give the film a real depth of character as well as a story that feels very different from the increasingly repetitive amnesia angle of the other Bourne movies.

Greengrass's fondness for shaky cameras may have its fans but I personally found it distracting so I was pleased with Tony Gilroy's more traditional style. The opening scenes in Alaska are brilliantly shot as is the climatic motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Manila. However, there is a respect for what went before - the movie seems to run concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum (which makes watching that a must if you want the best out of this picture) which is both brave and ambitious but the film is still chock-full of sweaty techies spouting jargon-heavy dialogue in front of banks of CCTV screens and computer monitors. in this role, Norton does the best he can but I'd have liked to see more of him scowling at the nervous nerds desperately trying to keep track of the fugitives.

Renner (left) and Weisz (right) evoke fond memories of Matt Damon & Franka Potente...
Renner (left) and Weisz (right) evoke fond memories of Matt Damon & Franka Potente... | Source

Fun Facts

  • Although much of the film is set in Washington, most of it was shot in New York. The drug factory in Manila was actually filmed at the printing press of the New York Times in Queens.
  • Cross mentions, when he leaves the mountain refuge, that he's heading to the Nest. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Nest is the preferred retreat of Hawkeye - who is, of course, played by Jeremy Renner in Avengers Assemble and other MCU pictures.
  • Daniel Craig visited his wife Rachel Weisz in Manila during the shoot. Producer Frank Marshall joked that it was cool to see James Bond on the set of a Jason Bourne film.

What's not to like?

Of course, there's no pretending that this is a Jason Bourne movie without Jason Bourne - yes, he pops up in dialogue and stuff but Matt Damon's absence is sorely felt throughout every stage of the picture. No matter how good the action scenes are (and they really are) or how complicated the story, The Bourne Legacy simply has a massive hole in its heart that's impossible to ignore.

In fact, Damon's shadow looms large over the entire production. Without him, the movie loses a bit of star power as well as any genuine connection to the series which makes this feel more of a spin-off than a continuation. Gilroy has captured the essence and style of the Bourne films but retained little of the bruising action or intrigue that made the first films so good. The film also runs for far too long - a good fifteen or twenty minutes could easily have been cut from the running time and the pacing feels wrong, with most action coming in the last half hour or so. The story isn't that strong or memorable either - without the mystery of Bourne's amnesia to solve, the film is essentially one long chase with little in the way of pay-off for viewers lasting the distance.

Renner's physicality lends itself well to the role of a hunted rogue agent
Renner's physicality lends itself well to the role of a hunted rogue agent | Source

Should I watch it?

The Bourne Legacy is certainly a competent action thriller with cracking performances from both Renner and Weisz and a handful of genuinely exciting action sequences. But there is nothing to really link it to the Bourne franchise besides a thinly written plot - maybe this might have worked better as a stand-alone picture like Angelina Jolie's Salt with the threat of exposure coming from an Edward Snowden-type character. Regardless, the film is a decent enough effort but falls short of the standard set by The Bourne Identity and others.

Great For: Matt Damon's next paycheck, action fans, brainwashed secret agents

Not So Great For: the Bourne franchise, actual spy agencies, America's reputation in the rest of the world

What else should I watch?

My personal favourite entry of the Bourne series is the first one, Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity. Combining the original story with its Cold-War atmosphere to a contemporary and realistic action movie, the film remains a masterpiece that influenced the Daniel Craig-era Bond films starting with Casino Royale in 2006. Both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum leaned more towards being proper action movies with less of an emphasis on story but Paul Greengrass's documentary-style of filming compensated for this by putting viewers right in the heart of the action. If their return to the series happens, it will be interesting to see what happens in future.

Bond films have certainly come a long way from the light-hearted jocular nature of Roger Moore's Moonraker. These days, the series is stronger than ever with genuinely great films like Skyfall proving that even 007 could still learn a trick or two from his rivals. Craig's most recent outing as Bond - Spectre - is an attempt to marry the new style with the old style story-telling and is largely successful at it.

Main Cast

Jeremy Renner
Aaron Cross
Rachel Weisz
Dr Marta Shearing
Edward Norton
Col. Eric Byer, USAF, retired
Stacy Keach
Adm. Mark Turso, USN, retired
Dennis Boutsikaris
Terrance Ward
Oscar Isaac
Number Three
Joan Allen
Deputy Director Pamela Landy

Technical Info

Tony Gilroy
Dan & Tony Gilroy *
Running Time
135 minutes
Release Date (UK)
13th August, 2012
Action, Spy, Thriller

* story by Tony Gilroy, based on characters created by Robert Ludlum

© 2016 Benjamin Cox


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