The Bourne Legacy
To the extent that film records and reflects the shifting attitudes of the culture that produces it, the Jason Bourne franchise has been a snapshot of growing disillusionment with the American government, war, and covert intelligence gathering in the first decades of the 21st century.
Many of the films of 2003 (the year in which the U.S. invaded Iraq) centered on an outnumbered but morally upright group defending freedoms in the face of an external threat: The Alamo, Master and Commander, The Last Samurai, The Matrix Revolutions, and The Return of the King.
Then 2004 brought a shift in attitudes toward the war and those who had conceived, fought, and sold it. Pictures of detainees at the Abu Gharib prison were leaked. Vanity Fair published a widely publicized and influential article on "The Path to War," questioning the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Films took a more cynical attitude toward war and those who waged it. Troy imagined Achilles as a noble fighter disgusted by the ineffectual and corrupt leaders who used him for their own ends; when he tied the body of a defeated foe to the back of a chariot and dragged it around the city, American audiences squirmed, not quite sure with whom to identify: the arrogant conqueror or the fallen defender of his home and family. The Bourne Supremacy concluded with an elite assassin apologizing to the daughter of his first victims followed by a cut to the New York skyline (sans Twin Towers), symbolically suggesting a link between the terrorist attacks and covert, immoral actions of government agencies that terrorized the world and brought pushback to our soil. No matter, Jason Bourne was about to go from being "off the grid" to being a rogue agent bringing vengeance and accountability to the architects of black operations.
The central structural problem facing the Bourne films is how to sustain sympathy for the agents themselves while distancing them from the agencies that created and command them. The Bourne Legacy is, if possible, even more cynical about government than its predecessors. It is revealed that Treadstone, the program that created Jason Bourne, was actually only one of several different programs designed to create an elite, secret corps of field operatives serving the intelligence community. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is part of Outcome, a program that chemically and genetically manipulates its agents in order to enhance their physical abilities and mental acuity. Legacy begins where The Bourne Ultimatum left off. When public revelations about Treadstone threaten to compromise other covert operations, Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) decides to temporarily shut down Outcome, eliminating the agents in it but keeping the medical data so the program can be rebooted at a later date.
Killing superspies turns out to be a little harder than making them—who would have thought? Once Cross uses his skills to survive, he, like Bourne before him, begins a journey to get answers from those who made but eventually disavowed him. The core of these films are the double-stalking narratives. Aaron, just like Bourne, tries to get answers about his origins and solutions for how to get his handlers to leave him alone; Byer and his minions try to capture or kill Aaron before he destroys what they perceive they have worked for.