Note: The following contains a few spoilers for the previous Bourne movies but not The Bourne Legacy.
Unlike the Bond films, which largely operate as standalone adventures, Universal’s first three Bourne movies are linked through a snaking narrative that follows amnesic spy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) as he rages against the shadowy government agents who trained him to be a killing machine.
How connected were these chapters? Well, director Paul Greengrass opened his 2007 thriller The Bourne Ultimatum
with a pivotal closing scene from 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy
. And the vengeance mission pitting Bourne against his CIA superiors – personified by Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Albert Finney – began in The Bourne Identity
and reached a tentative conclusion in Ultimatum
Which leads us to this week’s The Bourne Legacy
, a unique sequel that continues the ongoing story of our government’s elite spy program but shifts its perspective to a different set of eyes. Gone is Damon’s Jason Bourne, replaced by Jeremy Renner’s
equally lethal Aaron Cross… another trainee in the mysterious Treadstone program that once spit out cold-hearted assassins but now needs to be eradicated.
How does Legacy connect to the previous three Bourne movies? And what do you need to remember about this amnesic franchise before grabbing a ticket to the latest chapter? Here are a few burning questions you’ll need answered if Legacy’s going to make a lick of sense:
What is Treadstone?
Treadstone is the CIA black-ops program that recruited and trained Jason Bourne (Damon) and an undisclosed number of agents for top-secret missions. As Bourne backtracked up the government ladder to find out who “created” him, he faced off against several key Treadstone officials, including Head of Operations Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), field coordinator Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), the director of the Treadstone training program.
Wait, so who is Albert Hirsch?
Essentially, he is the “father” Bourne had been chasing for three movies. Hirsch is revealed, in Ultimatum, to be the creator of the training program that experimented with behavior modification. His methods helped turn the participants in both Operation Treadstone and Operation Blackbriar into lethal killing agents for the CIA. Hirsch is called before Congress at the end of Ultimatum to answer for his actions.
OK, then what is Operation Blackbriar, and how is it different from Treadstone?
Blackbriar is the successor to Treadstone. A covert training operation, Blackbriar is described by Noah Vosen (Strathairn) as the “umbrella program” for all of the CIA’s black-ops missions.
In Legacy, it is made clear that the secretive Treadstone program, which trained both Bourne and Renner’s Aaron Cross, was only the “tip of the iceberg.” There are several other training programs with distinct code names scattered around the globe. Blackbriar was initiated with the sole purpose of stopping a Treadstone operative who had gone “rogue”… namely, Jason Bourne.
The only reason our government had to acknowledge the existence of both Treadstone and Blackbriar is because Bourne broke free from the program, and a snooping journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) was about to blow the whistle on the initiative’s existence.
Simon Ross is back? How does he factor in? Didn’t he die in Ultimatum?
Yes, Ross was shot by a sniper in Waterloo Station when The Guardian reporter stopped following Bourne’s orders and stepped into a rifle’s crosshairs. Those events directly affect the action in The Bourne Legacy, though. Edward Norton, a newcomer to the franchise, plays Col. Eric Byer, a CIA superior tasked with putting out the rapidly spreading forest fire ignited by Bourne’s actions. The events of the first three Bourne movies – specifically, Ross’ intent to go public with his knowledge of Treadstone and Blackbriar – force Byer to pull the plug on the Treadstone operation… wiping Cross off the map.
Or so they think.
Why, then, is Joan Allen’s character, Pam Landy, in so much trouble?
Basically because she knows too much, and she put her metaphorical “eggs” in Jason Bourne’s “basket” at the end of Ultimatum. Granted, Bourne helped Landy in The Bourne Supremacy by secretly recording Abbott as he confessed to several controversial crimes. But near the end of Ultimatum, Landy faxes key Blackbriar documents obtained by Bourne to a government ally. She’ll pay for those actions… but not in Legacy. Perhaps in a future sequel? We’ll have to wait and see.