In the new era of Ultra HD Blu-ray, the arrival of the now five-film Bourne franchise has us looking back on each film in the series. (Check out all of the Ultra HD Blu-ray Bourne reviews, including The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Jason Bourne). For five years following Ultimatum, the Bourne franchise remained as a trilogy, and the first sequel to break the hiatus did so without Matt Damon. The Bourne Legacy includes a nice mix of promising characters and action pieces, but also is a film in need of some drastic editing. As off-shoots good, however, it's still a fun ride in the mold of the series.
Robert Ludlum penned three Bourne novels before he died in 2001 due to injuries sustained in a bizarre fire, and all three were made into feature films starring Matt Damon as the titular Jason Bourne. In the years since his passing, eleven new Bourne stories have been crafted by Eric Van Lustbader, the first of which continued Bourne's story in The Bourne Legacy. Therein lies the confusion: the 2012 Bourne film, The Bourne Legacy, has nothing to do with that particular book, despite sharing its title. In fact, it has little to nothing to do with Bourne, despite carrying his name, and aside from a few namedrops and images on computer screens, Damon does not appear in the film. In this new film directed by Tony Gilroy (the screenwriter for the first four Bourne films), we're given a new story, featuring a different agent, in a side-story that is not a prequel, sequel, or reboot, sharing some of the events of Ultimatum to inform viewers of when exactly the story takes place.
Over the original trilogy, viewers have met numerous government agents who proved to be adversaries to Jason Bourne, so when the cover art to The Bourne Legacy proclaims "There was never just one," it's really not all that hard to believe that in the layers of conspiracy and duplicity that there would be other people in the same program. These assets are kept on short leashes, controlled by the medication they take at regular intervals that make them almost superhuman. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one such agent on the same path as Bourne, but when the Blackbriar and Treadstone operations are revealed to the public (events seen in Ultimatum), a retired US Air Force colonel (Edward Norton as Eric Byer) involved in the cover-up decides to remove all evidence by eliminating the soldiers these agencies created. Cross's only link to discovering why he's suddenly a target lies in a geneticist (Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing) who played a role in the creation of the chemicals he's running short on. With the net closing in around Cross, Byer, in typical Bourne villain fashion, employs all of his resources to terminate both Cross and Marta before they can expose the truth.
The Bourne Legacy isn't a bad film by any means. It features the same beats fans are familiar with, with constant danger around every corner, no easy escape, and a series of increasingly nasty challenges for the hero to overcome. There's a thrilling chase sequence, plenty of mystery and mystique concerning the entire saga revealed, and a strong core of villains calling the shots, not to mention riveting frenetic action and a beautiful female love interest. It also features far too much forced nostalgia and failed attempts at callbacks to events in previous films that force us out of the film experience, not to mention some dangerous pacing issues and a general sense of anarchy that runs contrary to the excellently crafted, meticulous nature we've come to know from characters in these films.
The real catch 22 is Jason Bourne. Without the recognizable face, it's our job as viewers to try to feel for Cross, who is, in his own right, an equally intricate, muddled character, but this task becomes quite difficult since the film itself can't let go of its past. The references to Bourne are spread out to remind us "hey, you, you're watching a Bourne film, ok? This isn't some random action espionage thriller, it's Bourne!," and the act wears thin. We're supposed to be ooh-ing and aww-ing at the callbacks, from music cues to mentions or allusions, yet all it does is take us away from being able to move on, accept the film for what it is, and let it become its own story.
It's tragic, really, as Legacy has great potential. The opening act, covering Cross's training in isolation, is neat, while his encounter with another asset (Oscar Isaac) is full of unease. It's the cat-and-mouse game that's part friendly and part less-than-friendly really lets us into his world for the first time. Meanwhile, another story is unfolding, as Shearing's lab becomes the location of a brutal massacre, before agents attempt to silence the survivor. The combining of these two plots is done in a very amateurish way, not to mention the fact that Cross is off-screen far too long for the film's good, but from that point on, the film is running on all cylinders. There's intrigue as the pair attempt to escape America, with sequences in an airport that are meant to put one at the edge of their seat, all the while we see the government agents who are hunting them down pull more and more power and clout, piecing the puzzle together. The final third of the film takes place in Manila, and it's almost non-stop action, with a foot-chase sequence that's just about impossible not to enjoy (particularly in how it makes a claustrophobic setting seem wide open and accessible), which leads seamlessly into a fantastically choreographed motorcycle chase that has a fantastically nasty, realistic conclusion.
The Bourne Legacy deserves to wear its monicker with pride, as it has everything one would expect out of a film in the series. It just also has far too many attempts to justify the way the series had to (attempt to) move on from Damon as Bourne. Even if it does a terrible job in establishing who exactly the main villains are and why they're involved in the story whatsoever, this flick pulls it together and opens the door for what could be another excellent series. Sadly, the film made the least money in its domestic theatrical showings of any in the series, with around half of what Ultimatum drew five years earlier. I genuinely hoped to see more of Renner in this role, as we're just barely beginning to peel back layers of the onion, and the man is a natural replacement for the Damon, with the right mix of acting capabilities and believability as an action badass. After several years and a muted Damon-led sequel in Jason Bourne, Cross and Marta's story would appear to be over. Still, with Legacy, one doesn't need to brush up on the previous films to enjoy this one, so give it a whirl, even if it's hard to disassociate oneself and move on. There's a good enough payoff to give it a shot.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Universal brings The Bourne Legacy to Ultra HD Blu-ray both as an individual release, and as a timed Best Exclusive, together in the Bourne The Ultimate Collection. The individual release comes as a two-disc combo with a flyer for the Digital HD version, which with Vudu, yielded the Vudu UHD version, complete with Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital Plus support. The Ultra HD Blu-ray disc is designated as a BD-66 and has Alex Cross disc art with a dark background, which does, compared with the Blu-ray, excise Rachel Weisz/Dr. Marta Shearing, but also matches the rest of the Ultra HD Bourne set. The disc goes straight to the menu, and the menu features the same video loop as the Blu-ray but in full-frame and without the old familiar Universal menu design.
Among its other odd (for the series) characteristics, The Bourne Legacy sees the franchise take on the great outdoors. Aaron Cross is introduced as a pill-popping survivalist who can ascend snowy peaks as easily as he can dispatch villains on a dual-sport. The Alaska scenes really benefit from the improved contrast in HDR10. The dimly lit dinner shared by Cross and the asset played by Oscar Isaac is a challenge for displays. (Especially in the Dolby Vision Vudu version).
By design, Legacy can be madly inconsistent, both in terms of color pallet and image clarity. The Ultra HD Blu-ray version is the best I've seen for this movie, but there are still trouble spots. The ground control station scenes are full of stylish camera moves, with the camera blurring and focusing on the pilots and others in the room, but in various shots noise creeps in and even fills the screen. That could definitely be an inherent issue for the movie, but it contributes to an overall muted look that is less cohesive here than in the prior films.
Following up on the strong DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix from the Blu-ray, the DTS:X mix is more engaging. Much of the film is more aggressive, with sequences like the cabin destruction really delivering. Even quiet details, like the distant sound of wildlife and aircraft, come through with a deft touch. In sequences like the factory evacuation, the audio shoulders the atmosphere. The immersive quality isn't consistent, however, with scenes like the Cross/Byer flashback falling flat.
Like other films in the series, entire segments are built around audio chatter and nondescript muttering, both with and without score. These elements go well with the new mix, and when there is dialog, (Cross is more of a chatterbox than Bourne), it's very clear.
Joining the DTS:X track are the inherent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, a DTS Headphone:X track, and Spanish, French, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese DTS 5.1 tracks.
The only supplement/bonus on the Ultra HD Blu-ray is the Audio Commentary.
Standard Blu-ray Supplements
Audio Commentary - Featuring Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, John Gilroy, Robert Elswit, Dan Bradley, and Kevin Thompson. This track is loaded with references to how the film utilized the previous trilogy in quirky ways (from shot replication to reuse of unused alternate takes to homages to the Greengrass seizure cam), lots of sour grapes over cut shots, and comments about special effects that aren't explained or gone into in depth. This track is a tease, and with the excess of participants, becomes more about gabbing than informing.
Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, John Gilroy, and Robert Elswit) (HD, 7 min) - Three axed scenes, playable individually or as a whole. The Pennsylvania highway scene is a joke, while a government scene about assets pilfering pills probably belonged in the film. Lastly, there's some more Albert Finney, which is never a bad thing.
Re-Bourne (HD, 6 min) - How does one make a Bourne movie without Bourne? This feature covers the ideas of the film, the themes, not so much the lack of Matt Damon.
Capturing Chaos: The Motorbike Chase (HD, 8 min) - I'm quite fond of how this chase turned out, and considering it's the film's climax, a feature covering it was a given. We have lots of attention given to the second team direction, stunt acting, and even the camera systems, which look beyond complex and expensive. A great look into the flick.
Enter Aaron Cross (7 min) - Wouldn't it have been hilarious if this feature were about Tyler Perry, aka Alex Cross? No? Well, this is the feature to cover Renner, which may be more interesting to the majority of readers.
Crossing Continents: Legacy on Location (HD, 8 min) - The requisite location feature, hitting the various exotic locales.
Man vs Wolf (HD, 4 min) - Awesome sauce. Pure, unadulterated awesome sauce. The storyboards shown here are utterly hilarious, and the examination on how to make the scenes in real life was beyond interesting.
Wolf Sequence Test (HD, 1 min) - The full animatic for the wolf sequence, which also features live action using doubles and a plush dog on a rigged sled. Hilarious doesn't begin to cover it.
Moving Targets: Aaron and Marta (HD, 6 min) - A focus on the supporting characters in the film. Really in the same fashion as every other feature here.
D-Box Motion Code – Just one of the many Blu-ray carryovers.
The Bourne Legacy has so much going for it in terms of casting and fun action/spy sequences, but can't quite escape the shadow of the Jason Bourne character. This Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation has an impressive DTS:X track to go with picture quality that is better than the Blu-ray. As lesser sequels in big franchises go, this is one of the better examples, which makes it a good for completionism. For everyone else, it's Worth a Look.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.