It's a good thing Aaron Cross isn't an Olympian. He'd be busted for sure.
Aaron isn't just one of those run-of-the-mill spy that the U.S. Government apparently trains by the truckload. He isn't even just an everyday superspy. Aaron's a super-duper spy—the product of good old-fashioned scientific ingenuity and high-tech pharmaceuticals. He's not just good, he's enhanced—and to keep his edge, Aaron's supposed to take two pills every day: a green one that boosts his physical abilities somewhere north of Michael Phelps and a blue one that hikes his functional IQ closer to Stephen Hawking.
In other words, this super-duper dapper dude is a doper.
But hey, he's not in the Olympics, and the government insists the drugs are completely safe and morally dandy. And even if they weren't, it'd be OK to take 'em because he's serving his country—just like Captain America. So Aaron, being the patriotic American that he is, comes to semi-peace with the role assigned to him. Sure, maybe he asks a few too many questions for his super-secret boss's liking. Maybe they have to slap him on the wrist a time or two. But overall, he accepts his sometimes morally murky job, and he does it well.
Or at least he did, before a guy from an entirely different super-secret program shows up and starts making trouble: some bloke named Jason Bourne.
Before long, all sorts of governmental secrets are being leaked to the public—programs with names like Treadstone and Blackbriar that involve clandestine operations and secret assassins. And even though spies like Aaron are part of a different secret agency, the head honchos start to get nervous. What if the Treadstone thread is connected to their own? What if their secrets start showing up in The Washington Post, too? They quickly begin the process of shutting down their own super-secret spy setup—and when I say "shutting down," I mean "killing everyone involved."
Of course, killing super-assassins is exactly as difficult as it sounds. Despite the agency firing several missiles in his general direction, Aaron manages to avoid termination and, presumably, makes a mental note to have a stern discussion with his HR rep when circumstances allow.
But while Aaron's still alive, he's out of drugs. He needs to find more, and quick—before he starts begging for Milk-Bones.
We can and should be impressed with the heroism shown by Aaron here—not just his physical and mental acuity, but his willingness to sacrifice himself to help a doctor who's also on the lam.
Granted, they need each other. Dr. Marta Shearing needs Aaron's help to survive, and Aaron needs Marta's expertise to get more drugs—or fix him permanently so he won't have to take them. But it's clear the risks they take for each other go beyond mere mutual benefit. At one point, a sick and immobilized Aaron pleads with Marta to leave him behind—to take his money and equipment, and disappear, leaving him to whatever fate awaits. She refuses, and nurses him conscientiously.
The film also dabbles in a few important questions. In fact, all the Bourne films deal with core issues of right and wrong and the gray areas in which the two intermingle. "We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary," Aaron's boss tells him in flashback. And that feels true, to a point. Aaron and his fellow soldier-spies have provided valuable intelligence to the United States over the years. The end, Aaron's employers suggest, justifies the means.
But the film's ethos never goes that far, and when Aaron's boss decides—again for ostensibly the good of the country—to "burn the program to the ground"—we see the slippery slope that this moral relativism can lead to.
Most of us believe that in our hard, unforgiving world there is a place for clandestine operations. We understand that in some circumstances, perfect transparency would be detrimental to the health of our country. But we also know that secrets can have malignant lives of their own, and while the film's overarching questions may be impossible to answer definitively, they are worth asking.
When Marta hears that a co-worker had been fixated with her—taking pictures of her and collecting articles of her clothing—she says, "I always thought he was gay."
Fans of the Bourne series know that the films are uniformly violent. People die in lots of unpleasant ways. But even by that measure, The Bourne Legacy contains some very uncomfortable scenes.
The lab in which Aaron's drugs are refined becomes the site of a mass killing: A scientist, for reasons unknown, slaughters five of his co-workers with a handgun before turning the weapon on himself. We see the bullets enter the scientists (leaving welts of red on their white coats) and, when the killer kills himself, we hear a telling splatter. The scene was intentionally made to feel uncomfortable, and in the choppy wake of the 2012 theater massacre in Colorado and Sikh shooting in Wisconsin, its level of impact moves up the meter by three or four more clicks.
[Spoiler Warning] Marta, the sole survivor of the slaughter, is visited by an apparent psychologist and a handful of agents. They pretend to try to help the distraught doctor, but in reality they're hoping to finish what the killer had started—the obliteration of the medical staff that knew about the drugs. They find her gun, force it into her hand and point it at her head, trying to make her murder look like suicide. Aaron, hiding in the house, puts a stop to it, killing the four would-be assassins. He and Marta then douse the house in gasoline and set it on fire.
Aaron is stalked by a pack of wolves. And he ends up trapping and wrestling one of the snarling beasts. A missile obliterates a wolf. Aaron beats up and kills countless folks—utilizing fists, feet, bullets, glass windows and makeshift nail guns as instruments of unconsciousness and death. (While some of his victims were assassins themselves, and all of them posed a threat to his freedom, many were simply doing their jobs.)
His assailants throw police officers off motorcycles, purposely crash into buses full of innocent passengers and hurt lots of people. A man is shot several times before eventually meeting his end by driving into a concrete pillar with his motorcycle. People die after taking a mysterious drug, which leaves them bleeding from the nose. We see Aaron injected with needles, either to administer drugs or to draw blood. A man is shot in the forehead with a high-powered rifle. In flashback, Aaron's shown with a face pocked with wounds, perhaps from shrapnel. He gets shot. We see him cut out a tracking device his handlers have buried inside him—pulling the capsule-like thing out of his open, bleeding wound.
Crude or Profane Language
About 10 uses of the s-word. We also hear "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n." Jesus' and God's names are each abused a half-dozen times. God's is paired with "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Drugs are an inescapable part of The Bourne Legacy. Aaron owes much of his skill and smarts to them, and a great deal of the movie is about his quest to get more. Thus, the film presents these drugs in a positive light for the most part—even as it questions the reason for them. On one hand, the drugs can be seen as a "cure" for Aaron—just as a cochlear implant might "cure" a person of deafness. But on the other, they're quite literally performance-enhancing chemicals: We tell our teens about the evils of steroids and other such drugs, so there's an inescapable whiff of hypocrisy that must be dealt with here.
We also learn that scientists have tampered with a couple of Aaron's chromosomes, which makes the drugs effective in the first place. This biological manipulation carries with it the echo of certain societies' attempts to create "supermen," genetically superior humans capable of greater feats of body and mind than the rest of us. Legacy understands the moral murkiness of Aaron's "improvements," but asks us to unreservedly root for the guy anyway.
We see people drink wine.
Other Negative Elements
Aaron and others steal cars and motorcycles in order to make their escape. Aaron also takes a watch.
The Bourne movies tend to repeat themselves in feel, if not in plot. The story here is totally different than what's come before. Even Jason Bourne himself is gone, replaced by Aaron Cross. And yet it feels oh-so similar: A dangerous agent performing lethal deeds with a sort of brutal coolness. Secret intel bigwigs gathered in dark rooms with flashing monitors and buzzing phones. Frenetic action sequences documented by shaking cameras.
That means, of course, that the same problems we've seen in previous films show up here, too. The violence. The cursing. The problematic ethos that comes with rooting for rogue assassins. The Bourne movies tell us that elements in the government are training super-efficient killers, paying little mind to the ethical conundrums of doing so. And it strikes me that some fervent fans of this franchise spend just as little time contemplating the good and the bad of its content.
A good superspy would spend more mental energy on the subject at hand, is all I'm saying.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross; Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing; Stacy Keach as Retired Adm. Mark Turso; Edward Norton as Retired Col. Eric Byer
Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Michael Clayton)
August 10, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay