“We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary”

There was bound to be fallout after Jason Bourne ran amok avenging his girlfriend’s death and shutting down the government agencies that turned him into a cold-blooded killer. With his amnesia-induced morality’s push towards righteousness and its ability to turn executives like Pam Landy (Joan Allen) sympathetic to his plight, fixers behind the scenes of this CIA blunder realized public knowledge of Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar could risk exposing the myriad other similar programs being performed by high-level security officials doing their best to keep this country safe. Purging every last remnant of American human genetic enhancement experiments would be the only way to keep plausible deniability intact if a leak of information was believed. They must mothball the science to keep it alive—quietly, efficiently, and remorselessly.

This is where the man behind the scripts inspired by Robert Ludlum‘s saga has taken the story. Tony Gilroy—with help from brother Dan—infuses his newest installment with even more Michael Clayton-esque government espionage of so-called ‘cleaners’ while retaining the brutally authentic action we’ve come to love. The Bourne Legacy becomes just what its title connotes—an evolution of the Treadstone concept surviving by any means necessary due to the hasty deeds of the men in power. Jason Bourne was the tip of the iceberg in terms of super soldiers covertly wreaking havoc and doing our dirty work. His escape from the system and the US government’s horrified understanding of what someone with his particular skill-set could do rogue changed protocol, mindsets, and response. Unsurprisingly, these swift preventive measures end up creating someone even more formidable.

 Similar in style to the original trilogy, the subtle differences in scope are what make the film fresh enough to not only be relevant but also successful. What took three films to expose how David Webb became Jason Bourne is distilled into one—albeit a long one at over two hours—because Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) knows exactly who his is. There is no need for exposition as far as why he can survey a room, climb building facades, or dismantle an opponent via hand-to-hand combat. He willingly joined the cause, enjoys the physical and intellectual perks, and lets his snarky attitude shine through the bureaucratic nonsense of scheduled blood work. He’s made mistakes and has been ‘punished’ with a glorified scavenger hunt in Alaska, but he takes his meds and looks to advance through.

The chicken and egg equation reverses as the government’s callous attempt to protect itself turns Cross against them. He goes dark out of necessity because Retired Adm. Turso (Stacy Keach) and Retired Col. Byer (Edward Norton) want him dead. Still a cat-and-mouse game, the dynamic changes quickly once Cross makes them believe they were successful. Rather than bring the fight or play the victim, his desire is to maintain his medication regiment and superior skills. Much of the movie therefore elevates him to the savior of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) as Byer looks to cleanse all scientists privy to the research. The resulting film may be more conventional by pitting hero against villain with innocent in between, but a conventional Bourne is still more entertaining and intelligent than the usual actioner Hollywood churns out.

One sees Gilroy wanting to write Bourne as a character who didn’t let his conscience get the best of him. What would one of these agents be capable of if they not only had their wits but also didn’t want to stop? Aaron Cross had no inclination for retirement—he’s a soldier who enjoys what he does. The Bourne Legacy shows the flip side of its predecessors, replacing the clichéd killer with a heart by the clichéd burnt spy fighting for life. The human aspect shines through with Weisz’s scared civilian caught in the middle, but for the most part it’s all about the clinical precision of suits against the muscle they bred. Norton makes the tough scorched-earth policies as his team frantically scours their technological Big Brother platforms for their targets and Cross stays one step ahead.

Norton pretty much reprises David Strathairn‘s Noah Vosen as a man simply doing a job for his country. There is no real malicious intent in his actions—he weighs the scales and approves the inevitable collateral damage. Because of this you can’t really hate him and the film finds itself lacking a real bona-fide antagonist for a good portion. This installment’s foreign adversary in Louis Ozawa Changchien‘s LARX #3 eventually joins the fray for an all-out extended chase through Manilla that rivals if not surpasses the brilliant race in Bourne Supremacy, but Legacy finds itself living in the gray areas of clandestine action until that point. It leads to a more cerebral start taking its time to breathe, but fear not as Gilroy’s sprawling climax does its best to equal departing director Paul Greengrass‘ shaky-cam artistry.

Renner fills in for Matt Damon well, possessing a similar build and ability while also infusing some humor considering his character isn’t still figuring out his identity. He quietly goes through the motions as though on a mission and treats those he comes into contact with as assets or marks accordingly. Unafraid to kill when necessary, his actions are selfish and despite Weisz’s inclusion never risk being clouded by emotion. Cross is at the top of a food chain made of clinical pragmatists who understand the stakes and perform for the ‘greater good’. With Zeljko Ivanek and Oscar Isaac helping cultivate this air of mystery as Allen, Strathairn, and Albert Finney reprise roles to tie the films together, Legacy‘s birthright remains intact as a new iteration rises to Moby‘s consistent end credits theme.

The Bourne Legacy 8/10