In some long-running TV series, especially science-fiction (and doubly so for the multiple incarnations of Star Trek), there is a phenomenon to explain the inevitable lapses in continuity, which is called “retroactive continuity” or “retcon.” This is either canonical (invented by the writers in later episodes) or non-canonical (invented by the fans), and usually they fall down on some logical level.
One of the more famous fan-based retcons tries to explain why James Bond has been played by multiple actors and appears to have aged forwards and backwards since 1962. According to this theory, “James Bond” is just a cover identity, which multiple double-oh agents have assumed over the years. The films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only render this nonsensical, and the Daniel Craig movies have rendered the whole thing moot.
You may ask, “What the hell has all this got to do with a Jason Bourne movie?”
The writers of this series have found a nifty way to get ahead of the whole problem. Rather than recast the role, they just slotted in a completely new character, with all of the same Bourne-like chop-socky skills, into the Treadstone/Blackbriar narrative from a completely different angle.
Legacy takes place in tandem with the third film, as the CIA tries to clean up the mess that Jason Bourne has left behind, including shutting down another, even darker project. And by “shutting down,” I mean killing the agents, one by one.
We are morally indefensible, and absolutely necessary.
In the meantime, a nameless agent (Jeremy Renner) crosses a frozen Alaskan training ground, encountering another agent along the way. Both men are suspicious the other is there to kill him, but they’re proven wrong when a Predator drone blows up their cabin, killing the other man. Our first nameless agent barely escapes.
At a pharmaceutical lab connected to the program, one of the scientists goes berserk and begins shooting his coworkers. A shell-shocked survivor named Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is questioned at her home by a woman claiming to be an FBI psychiatrist, but she’s just there to lay the groundwork to fake Marta’s suicide. They almost have the gun to her head when the nameless agent, known to the program as Aaron Cross, appears through the window.
Up until this point, The Bourne Legacy has played its cards close to the vest, following several apparently unconnected threads to get Aaron Cross to Marta Shearing’s. From this scene forward, the movie is a linear chase movie, more or less in line with the other films in the series. It’s not really a faulty, but the story is unusually front-loaded with plot and back-loaded with action.
It certainly feels like a Bourne movie, including bit parts by players from the third film (David Straithairn, Scott Glenn, and Joan Allen), and a familiar feel to scenes as CIA analysts try to track down Cross and Shearing under the obsessive eyes of the men in charge of the program (Edward Norton and Stacy Keach).
I give the movie full credit for finding something moderately fresh to do with the Bourne universe, although it is beginning to strain credibility, even for this kind of movie, that the CIA has so many layers of black assassination programs, one inside the other, and all of them fatally flawed. On the other hand, having read Tim Weiner’s book about the history of the agency, Legacy of Ashes, I have to concede that maybe it’s not that incredible.
The Bourne Legacy works about as well as it can, fitting the mold of a Bourne movie, while understandably lacking the freshness of the first couple of movies. It is by no means an essential entry in the series. Fans of the first three can see and order miss it at their discretion. If you choose to see it, you will be adequately entertained.