By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Matt Damon was expected to be Bourne again. And perhaps he will. But not this time.
In The Bourne Legacy, the fourth installment in the action-thriller series inspired by the Robert Ludlum novels, Jeremy Renner takes over the lead role from Damon, who starred as CIA amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne in the first three films – The Bourne Identity in 2002, The Bourne Supremacy in 2004, and The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007.
Renner – Oscar-nominated for The Hurt Locker and The Town– plays a new character, another resourceful, covert, government-trained assassin, one Aaron Cross. Like Jason Bourne, he’s not just good with lethal weapons: he is a lethal weapon.
In a narrative with a parallel plot that’s partially set during the events of its immediate predecessor, Ultimatum, Cross realizes that he and the other field agents who worked for a program known as Operation Outcome, now being scrapped, are being hunted down.
So he teams up with the doctor who helped administer drugs that only the government can provide and that contributed to his genetic enhancement, played by Rachel Weisz, in an effort to make the enhancement permanent and thus not need the medications.
As before, this spin-off of the franchise is an energetic, violent, old-school spy flick, a breathless action thriller featuring exotic locales, chases galore, jittery editing, darting handheld camerawork, and extensive hand-to-hand combat in a suspenseful cat-and-mouse drama that’s blessedly free of computer-generated special effects.
Writer and director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity), who wrote or co-wrote each of the first three films and co-wrote this one with his brother Dan, loosely based the cynicism-soaked screenplay on a later Bourne novel by Eric Van Lustbader.
And his large, competent supporting cast – including Edward Norton, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, David Strathairn, Donna Murphy, and Albert Finney – help to lend an authoritativeness to the sometimes outlandish proceedings.
But whereas in the first three films we were intrigued with Jason Bourne’s predicament and then strongly invested in the outcome of his efforts to stay alive, our involvement with Aaron Cross doesn’t evolve as completely from a removed admiration of his skills to an emotional rooting interest.
Still, until the unnecessarily extended and farfetched climax on the crowded streets of Manila – and if we can erase the memory of a laughably unconvincing moment of derring-do on the back of a motorcycle featuring Oscar winner Rachel Weisz – this adventure comes close to matching the level of dramatic tension throughout the trilogy that preceded it.
That’s to some degree the fault of the somewhat underdeveloped screenplay, to some degree because the film stops rather than ends, and to some degree because while Renner is a perfectly acceptable and believable leading man, his level of magnetism falls a tad short of that of Matt Damon.
You needn’t have seen any or all of the first three films to follow or appreciate this one, but it does enrich the experience – unless you compare the film a bit too closely to its predecessors and allow the unavoidable law of diminishing returns to kick in.
So we’ll chase 2½ stars out of 4 for a serviceable sequel that comes tantalizingly close to living up to its legacy. Despite following the template almost to the letter, The Bourne Legacy somehow manages to avoid the trap of registering as The Bourne Redundancy.