While it may seem in good form to continue a film franchise based on a book series, The Bourne Legacy is something of an anomaly in the context of the Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon. Though still based on Robert Ludlum's novels, The Bourne Legacy is actually a part of a newer series by Eric Van Lustbader entitled The New Jason Bourne novels. Perhaps that is why, in addition to lacking Jason Bourne, the film also lacks Ludlum's distinct voice.
The one consistent aspect about the fourth installment is the pairing of Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy as screenwriters. Once famed for helping Madonna get her start in their band, The Breakfast Club, the Gilroy brothers have proven themselves more than worthy film industry veterans. With The Bourne Legacy, their crafting of main character Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, distinguished by most as being in films like The Town and Thor, but distinguished to me by being from Modesto) is secondary only to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).
The emotional subtleties and complexities of Marta by far outshine any of the acting Julia Stiles executed as Nicky Parsons, the presumable parallel to Marta. As Marta gradually then suddenly realizes the role she has played in Aaron's calculated demise on the part of the CIA and Department of Defense, she cannot help but feel responsible for him, traveling to the ends of the earth (Manila, Philippines) to help finalize the work that Operation Outcome (a covert Department of Defense program) started in administering blue pills for enhancing participants' intelligence and green pills for physical strength.
Aaron’s initial scheme to feign losing his supply of pills while on a training assignment in Alaska proves useful after his contact person, Number Three (Oscar Isaac), offers to replenish his cache, giving Aaron the increased intelligence he craves. Unfortunately, before Aaron can gain access to the pills, Eric Byer (Edward Norton, who always seems to be playing a similar role to the nameless everyman in Fight Club), the head of overseeing clandestine operations for the CIA, orders Number Three’s cabin to be destroyed. As Aaron is walking outside to begin his journey back to civilization, the cabin explodes after a plane fires at it.
This unexpected attack immediately tips Aaron off to the fact that Operation Outcome and all of its participants are going to be wiped out. With no one to depend on except himself, Aaron sets out on a frantic journey through the woods, cuts out the tracking device that was implemented in his thigh, and inserts it into the mouth of an attacking wolf (no big deal) so that the CIA will assume they’ve killed him once the plane aims at his target.
From there, the plot essentially emulates your generic action movie, though there is one particularly harrowing scene in which, after being chemically manipulated, one of the scientists in Shearing’s lab goes on a slow, methodical shooting rampage. Apart from this memorably unique few minutes, The Bourne Legacy can best be described as a challenging quest for drugs (what drug quest isn’t when you’re not in an L.A. nightclub?) and a series of chases and convoluted political backstories.
For anyone focused on the romance aspect of the film (which is probably no one except girlfriends who were coerced into seeing this and lesbians obsessed with Rachel Weisz), one can at least take comfort in knowing that the conclusion pays vague homage to the final scene in The Bourne Identity, picturesque scenery and all.