The Bourne Legacy is like one of those sitcom episodes in which a previously unseen and unmentioned character comes to visit, and all of the main characters talk about their long history with this person the audience has never met before (and will likely never see again). What do you mean you’ve never heard of Aaron Cross? He’s, like, twice the Jason Bourne that Jason Bourne ever was, and he’s just as important to track down and eliminate. He comes from this super top-secret program that exists to create enhanced secret agents. No, not Treadstone, the program that trained Jason Bourne. It’s this other, even more secret program that’s actually way more intense and dangerous than Treadstone. All those steely government bureaucrats who were so obsessed with Jason Bourne—they didn’t even know about Aaron Cross and this other program. Aren’t you convinced?
The desperation is pretty self-evident throughout Legacy, which casts Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross and Edward Norton as the determined company man out to take him down. Director and co-writer Tony Gilroy (who worked as a screenwriter on all three Matt Damon-led Bourne movies) spends the first half of the movie painstakingly establishing his story’s connections to the existing Bourne universe, despite the fact that Damon never shows up and other actors from previous installments are glimpsed only briefly (sometimes in recycled footage). For the continuation of a series known for its propulsive action, Legacy is remarkably slow and lethargic, with only sporadic action until the fairly impressive (if derivative) climax, a long chase through the streets of Manila.
Renner is a solid actor, but Cross is a thinly sketched character, and his partnership with one of the program’s scientists (Rachel Weisz) takes too long to come together and never quite feels genuine. Taking over from prior series director Paul Greengrass, Gilroy has a smoother, less-chaotic style that suits his emphasis on exposition over action, but Legacy lacks the moral complexity of Gilroy’s breakout effort as a director, Michael Clayton, and all of the convoluted jargon accomplishes little but obscuring the fundamentally simple story. The story of Jason Bourne tied up satisfyingly in The Bourne Ultimatum, making Legacy merely an unnecessary (and mostly unsuccessful) footnote.