The fourth Bourne movie was way better than you remember.
The Bourne Legacy, the Jeremy Renner-starring side-quel to the original trilogy of Matt Damon’s forgetful spy, was the Ghostbusters reboot of 2012. It was torn to pieces before it even entered theatres, so despite good reviews, Bourne #4 is now barely mentioned (and when it is, usually in whispered tones, as if it’s the shameful secret of the Bourne series).
Regardless of whether you think The Bourne Legacy was over- or underrated, even those who’d prefer to forget its existence will find Matt Damon’s return to the fold after nine years, Jason Bourne, the worst in the series.
By the time 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum concluded the original film story of amnesiac Jason Bourne (Damon) — the subject of Operation Treadstone, a covert CIA program built on brainwashing and behavioural modification — it seemed all of Bourne’s backstory had been uncovered.
Nearly a decade later, we catch up to Bourne again, living about as far off the grid as one can and earning a living from underground fighting.
Nicki Parsons (Julia Stiles), former logistics tech for Treadstone, is now a hacktivist working to expose all of the CIA’s shady ops. When Nicki discovers a shocking connection between Treadstone and someone from Bourne’s past, she tracks Bourne down to let him know (accomplishing in a day what all of the CIA’s best have failed to achieve in nine years, apparently).
Bourne’s resumption of racing to discover the truth of his past as fast as he can drive then continues, albeit at a much slower pace than when the series (and its lead) was ten years younger.
While Bourne is chasing down his past, the CIA once again is chasing him. Heading the hunt for Bourne after Parsons unknowingly gives away his location is Heather Lee (recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander), head of the CIA’s Cyber Crimes Division.
Following in the footsteps of the esteemed Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, and Stacy Keach, Jason Bourne adds Tommy Lee Jones as the new CIA head barking out orders to his agents in pursuit of Bourne and constantly warning Lee that she’s out of her depth without offering any better ideas.
In case those two plots don’t do it for you, there’s also a rogue assassin on Bourne’s tail, known only as The Asset (Vincent Cassel), who has a personal score to settle with the amnesiac action hero.
Still not enough for you? Okay, how about a non-sequitur fourth plot, involving a fictional Mark Zuckerberg (Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed) being blackmailed by Jones’ CIA Director into betraying the privacy of all of his social medium’s users. What does a Facebook lookalike have to do with the amnesiac assassin who once beat down a man with a rolled-up magazine? Well… Hey, look, another car chase!
Jason Bourne tries to do so much, it never gets anywhere. Damon and director Paul Greengrass do the same thing they did together in The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Green Room, but they just seem to be going through the motions, hoping intensity and breathlessness will make up for a scattershot script that barely holds together long enough to reach the overlong climax.
This is the first and only of the five Bourne movies not written by Tony Gilroy and it’s hard not to draw a direct correlation between his absence and Jason Bourne’s shockingly dumb script. Rather than being written by Gilroy, Jason Bourne was written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse — a man who has served as film editor on pictures like Paycheck and Eight Below but who’s never written a screenplay before now. It shows.
Damon is good, but he seems to have a hard time getting a feel for Bourne again. Perhaps it’s been too long since he stepped into the hoodie, perhaps he’s outgrown the two-dimensional character, or perhaps it’s because of his Oscar-nominated performance so recently in The Martian, but Damon just seems to be going through the motions this time.
Vikander does a better job than other actors have done playing similar characters in earlier Bourne movies, but is also haunted by the much-better performances of hers in last year’s Ex Machina and The Danish Girl. Her work here is more akin to her work in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — good, but nothing amazing.
Greengrass, famous for turning shaky-cam cinematography into a modern action movie staple, feels like he’s doing a parody of himself now. Action scenes that do work succeed more through fight choreography than anything else, and the ones that don’t are visually incomprehensible.
For four years, my stance has been that The Bourne Legacy is not the worst but just the second-worst of the four-film series, above 2002’s sluggish The Bourne Identity. With Jason Bourne now lowering the bar so much for the series, now’s the best time to revisit Renner’s Legacy; third-best or fourth-best in the series, it’s now certainly not the worst.