Director: Tony Gilroy
Studio: Relativity Media
If a movie looks, moves and sounds like a Bourne movie, can it really be a Bourne movie without Matt Damon as its bang bang, run-and-jump amnesiac CIA assassin? And wasn’t Damon’s Bourne trilogy already wrapped up in a rich and emotionally satisfying way? Well, yes, but when a movie franchise takes in almost $1 billion in theaters around the world, temptation is strong. Enter The Bourne Legacy, which, instead of charismatic movie star Damon, gives us tough, sad-eyed character actor Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, one of the last surviving genetically messed-with undercover spy trainees who are being systematically and violently terminated by the CIA, as led by a spooky-looking Edward Norton.
The movie is directed and cowritten by Tony Gilroy, who not only wrote Michael Clayton but also the three earlier Bourne epics. He and his cowriter, brother Dan Gilroy, have given this one an ingenious, slow-build setup: its action unfolds parallel to the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans of The Bourne Ultimatum. Its ticking clock has Renner’s character desperately needing to get his hands on the mind- and body-altering pills that not only keep him kicking but also alive. Already, though, that pursuit packs far less power and mystery than Jason Bourne’s trying to discover who he is and then trying to make amends for it. Nevertheless, Renner’s quest sends him dodging drone-spewed missiles in remote Alaska, getting chased by a relentlessly focused assassin (Louis Ozawa Changchien) up, down, over and across the city of Manila on a motorbike and, in the best sequence in the whole picture, deliberately provoking a panicky near-stampede by assembly-line workers in a pharmaceutical company to camouflage a great escape for himself and hunted, weepy biochemist Rachel Weisz. Armed with sharp dialogue and a lot of talent, Renner and Weisz give their roles exceptional focus and weight, as do Broadway actors Donna Murphy and Corey Stoll as soulless CIA drones and Zeljko Ivanek as a run-amok lab rat. But the Gilroy brothers weigh down the good stuff with lots of talk, a lumbering backstory and unnecessarily baffling layers of treachery and double crosses.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit shot this thing with blue steel brilliance, but that can't disguise how overly familiar, too damn long and lacking in action the movie is. More fatally, Renner barely gets a chance to play even remotely human or emotionally engaging until very late in the game. In the end, The Bourne Legacy doesn't absorb and involve us deeply enough to make it worthy of its predecessors.