Review of The Bourne Legacy

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The fourth film in the spy thriller series based on the Jason Bourne novels created by Robert Ludlum and Eric Van Lustbader, The Bourne Legacy is the first film to feature someone other than Matt Damon in its leading role. The story resumes after the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, with a new cast of characters struggling to deal with the aftermath left by Jason Bourne. Jeremy Renner stars as the main character, Aaron Cross/Kenneth Gidson, an agent of Operation Outcome, while Edward Norton, Joan Allen & Rachel Weisz fill in the supporting roles.
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Watching a Bourne movie not starring Jason Bourne is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters starring the Washington Generals. Over the past months, writer of the last three, and now director of this one, Tony Gilroy and Matt Damon have feuded over the future of this franchise. Damon wants a good script in order to come back. After watching “Bourne 4”, I side with him.

Gilroy says this is a companion piece that ties into the Bourne storyline, but other than telling us that there’s more than one CIA program (a fact we could gather from the poster alone), he’s really just telling the same story with different characters and minimal results.

That program is called Operation Outcome, an offshoot of Treadstone that involves Sin-Eaters, guys called upon to do the necessary immoral things around the world. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one of its field agents, who we first see trekking across the Alaskan mountains. One difference between Cross and Bourne is that Cross has been genetically enhanced with pills, probably why he, quite impressively, manages to take down a wolf, plus a drone sent to kill him.

The drone was sent by his superiors at the CIA, who are all worried that Bourne’s continued search for the truth will expose them all, thus programs need to be “cleaned up.” This movie begins in the middle of “Bourne Ultimatum”. The one hunting Cross is Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton), the man who has built and funded both Outcome and Treadstone.

Along for the ride is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist at Outcome who also finds herself targeted for a “cleaning”. Gilroy somewhat unconvincingly throws her and Cross together. After she gives him his pills, he for some reason follows her, somehow manages to hide himself in her house and wait for two other field agents to come to kill her.

So begins the chase, a disappointingly straightforward one that misses out on the plotting complexity of the first three and seems to be building toward revealing nothing. Gilroy’s direction moves at a snails pace (this movie should not be almost 2 and a half hours) and he favors scenes of complicated, long-winded talk about things like genetic enhancement, pills, and trying to shoo-horn in this Outcome story with the rest of the “Bourne” storyline. The adrenaline doesn’t start pumping until 20 minutes before it ends, with a chase through the streets of Manila, Philippines that borrows heavily from other Bourne movies but is still the best thing offered here.

Renner has nice action-star physicality but I’m still waiting for him to look like an action hero. Cross misses Bourne’s vulnerability, charisma, intelligence. We don’t care about him. Meanwhile Norton, a great actor, sleepwalks his way through and comes in far behind Chris Cooper, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn who played team leaders in the other films.

If Gilroy and co. are really hoping to turn this into a bigger conspiracy, he’s going to have to do a lot more than just rehashing in order to make it work. This is the first time “Bourne” feels more like “Boring.”