Bourne is not the new Bond. Because one murderous British womaniser who is ready to casually dispatch foreign enemies for Her Maj, no questions asked, is more than enough.
While Daniel Craig’s Bond may have been a little less willing to obey his superiors unquestioningly, he has ultimately proven to be as faithful an attack dog for the establishment as his predecessors, always keeping Britain’s best interests in mind.
The original Bourne trilogy was already far more nuanced than the Bond series, with the style of the onscreen chaos influencing a new generation of action espionage films. But with Matt Damon out the door and the Bourne character shelved while the series forges on, does this move into franchisehood threaten to make formulaic what once was fresh?
The answer is yes, but with a whole heap of conditions that help to make The Bourne Legacy feel like an entirely worthwhile enterprise.
Firstly, Jeremy Renner is if anything a better fit for the role of a psychologically damaged super soldier than Damon. As Aaron Cross he has the weather-beaten looks and wry confidence that makes you believe in his abilities as a cold-blooded killer. Damon always looked too much like he was acting without his own volition, as if being puppeteered by his nascent knowledge and training, which took the whole amnesiac back story a little too deep.
Secondly, while Cross is similarly on the run after being disavowed and blacklisted by the government agency that created him, he has entirely selfish reasons for evading capture and, unlike Bourne, has no intention of exposing the immoral actions of the network of spies in which he was a pawn. He’s simply out to secure the medication that he needs to stay as physically and intellectually enhanced, with any personal entanglements being made only to aid him in that goal.
Cross is no Bond, but nor is he Bourne. He is an average combatant who is addicted to the benefits that he gains only through gene-manipulating substances produced by Dr Shearing’s (Rachel Weisz) team.
Since the plot of this film runs concurrent with The Bourne Ultimatum, this does lead to a confusing first act which those who are unfamiliar with the franchise must allow to wash over them. But Renner’s compelling role and the eventual coherence that emerges help to provide a backdrop for the film’s most satisfying element: the action.
In a summer that has been populated with movies concerned only with the extraterrestrial (Men In Black 3, Prometheus), the supernatural (Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) or both (Avengers Assemble), it is an enormous relief to watch a film in which two people have a fist fight without one having the strength to punch the other through a concrete wall. Yes, the whole free running thing is getting a little bit tired by now, but at least this inevitable sequence is kept brief and more time is spent on tense gun battles and one excellently executed climactic chase scene.
Bourne is at its best when the main character seems unable to generate anything more than the most tepid relationships with other people. While Legacy features a very Bond-esque conclusion, it packs in enough entertainment and intelligent intrigue prior to this to justify the reboot. So Bourne may not be Bond. But like a man who has stolen from a prostheses clinic, it has legs.