Narratively running parallel to Paul Greengrass’s excellent The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Legacy is less a sequel than a proficient expansion of the dark, exacting bureaucracy that director Tony Gilroy helped build, as screenwriter and producer of the original trilogy, with Greengrass and Doug Liman. Centered on Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), an extensively trained and chemically manipulated Black Ops agent in the same experimental program (Treadstone) that Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was an “outcome” of, this smart and engaging actioner makes use of a similar style and template as the previous Bourne films, but also suggests a clever metaphor for Gilroy’s burgeoning career as a singular Hollywood filmmaker.
In this extension of the world of Treadstone and governmental chicanery, Jason Bourne is seen as little more than a phantom, his presence gleaned from various photographs and hushed conversations. This is enough, however, to send the cadre of shadowy political figures behind the program(s), most prominently represented by Edward Norton’s Eric Bryer and Stacy Keach’s Mark Turso, into a paranoid tizzy, causing them to enact a plan to eliminate their operatives, of which Aaron is the sole survivor. Thought dead by his omnipresent overseers, Aaron partners with Marta (Rachel Weisz), one of the scientists who engineered the drugs that turned into Aaron into a top-model assassin, saving her from being nearly executed by those same overseers in two stunning, nearly back-to-back action sequences.
With the exception of the film’s breathless third act, wherein Aaron and Marta invade a lab in Milan to find the serum that will wean Aaron off of his chemical dependency, The Bourne Legacy is largely a domestic affair. The moral and physical distance and dissimilarities between those who enact violent action and those who deceitfully plan and sign off on said actions are essential elements to the emotional backdrop of this film and its predecessors. But whereas Bourne’s trials were in the service of memory, to recover and rediscover a complex past, Aaron’s ultimate goal is to create a future for himself as a self-possessed individual, cleaned of the mire of government-sanctioned bloodshed.
Gilroy, who co-wrote the script with his brother, Dan Gilroy, gives his action set pieces space, in contrast to the adrenalized frenzy of Greengrass’s combat sequences, and he boldly distinguishes Aaron as less of an army of one than Bourne. The pace is similar to that of Greengrass’s Bourne films, but The Bourne Legacy feels lighter, less burdened with backstory than its predecessors. And though Renner doesn’t have Damon’s easy charm, which lightened the more lugubrious passages of the original trilogy, he perfectly captures both the physical rigors of a trained killing machine and a man slowly shedding the yolk of chemical and bureaucratic control.
This is all to say that Gilroy finds arguably minor but crucial ways to make his film distinctly different in the series; the title itself suggests a troublesome artistic lineage that Gilroy, like Aaron, must outsmart and somehow distance himself from. Following the unfortunate financial failure of his vastly underrated Duplicity, Gilroy undoubtedly felt pressure to return to his roots in governmental espionage, but he also continues to cleverly plumb the cold horrors and furious absurdities of corporate espionage through Marta’s relationship with her employer, the pharmaceutical company contracted to create the pills that control Aaron. There’s little proof that the Bourne series will allow such stylish reinventions as the Mission: Impossible series, but The Bourne Legacy serves as covert artistic statement ironically guised as what some might see as a step backward. As opposed to the film’s own ambiguous ending, the relative box-office failure of The Bourne Legacy guarantees that Gilroy still owes Hollywood a (pun intended) hit, but it’s clear that when he does direct another film, it will be of his own unmistakable design and not just another innocuous, artless outcome.
As in most cases with their more recent titles, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has done a stunning job with this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, which unlikely highlights detail and texture in this kinetic action film. The definition and crispness lends great visual interest in even the wildest scenes; check out the materials and aged wood inside the home where Marta is interrogated and then nearly killed. Clarity is excellent and colors, from Aaron's bright red jacket to the beaming, sterilized whites of Marta's lab, are consistently transfixing. The audio matches that level of brilliance, as the dialogue is crisp and clear out front, with sound effects and James Newton Howard's energetic score blending into an immersive sonic background.
The jewel here is the excellent commentary track by the Gilroys (Tony, Dan, and editor John), Robert Elswit, Dan Bradley, and Kevin Thompson, which covers everything from the fight choreography to the shift in narrative focus in the Bourne series to the casting. It's a rousing and interesting listen, whereas the featurettes, covering the location shooting and the switch from Bourne to Aaron Cross, among other facets of the production, are largely unnecessary; the short on the making of the wolf-fight sequence is perhaps the only genuinely fascinating one. The deleted scenes are a nice addition, if entirely disposable. For the commentary alone, however, this qualifies as a strong package.
Tony Gilroy's involving and smart installment of the Bourne series comes to Blu-ray armed with a superb A/V transfer and a solid packing of extras from Universal.