The previous Bourne film, 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, was superb. This fourth instalment may even be a little bit better. Matt Damon’s character occupies an off-screen role, and Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is brought to the foreground. Similar to Jason Bourne, Cross is the product of a scientific military programme to produce the perfect agents through chemical tweaking.
Although initially this programme was kept so hush hush that even high-up big important people were kept away from knowing its dodgy little secrets, in The Bourne Ultimatum some of these secrets were found their way to the Guardian newspaper. Of course, the journalist leading the story (Paddy Considine) was promptly dispatched with in Waterloo Station.
At the start of this film it is this incident causes a haemorrhage inside the brains of the operation. Everything is being shut down and agents are being killed. This demolition is orchestrated by a terrifyingly cold Edward Norton. He does this kind of icy detachment very well.
There are a lot of major plot points that I could go into, but to cut a long story short: Cross and a scientist involved in the programme (Rachel Weisz) have to go on the run or they will be unfeelingly deleted by their former employees.
As an action duo they fit into a fairly unoriginal mould (he is the cool, violent guy, she is the teary-eyed hysterical female), but both fit into it rather well. In terms of Hollywood, such a combination is commonplace. In the Bourne world, however, it’s a refreshing twist, as our previous female counterpart to Bourne was the cool and calm Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles).
The film doesn’t sidestep characterisation in favour of action, nor does it try to become too domestic and emotion-based. This is a furious, skin-splitting action movie of hyper-intelligence. Everything fits together perfectly – the chemistry of Renner and Weisz and the gritty sophistication of Tony Gilroy’s action directing. He scripted the previous Bourne films, and his move to directing is spectacular. He harnesses the cinéma vérité style that was pioneered by Paul Greengrass and makes it his own. There is certainly a different, perhaps more jagged, feel to this episode, and it’s a compelling change that sinks into the DNA of the story.
Although it hasn’t pleased everyone (some critics greeted the decision to keep the series going without Damon with cynicism), I can honestly say I thought it was magnificent. It’s a masterful, assured, intelligent film that stands many rungs above the likes of The Dark Knight Rises, it’s most formidable box office competitor. It may provide us with a seemingly far-fetched premise (agents engineered, through medication, to do what the government wants), but it’s executed with a scary, matter-of-fact approach that is addictive and exciting. This is science fiction storytelling at its most chillingly believable.
The Bourne Legacy (2012), directed by Tony Gilroy, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 12A.