The Bourne franchise has a new boss: Jeremy Renner fills the Matt Damon-shaped hole left behind when Damon bailed, and some can see why he might have chosen to do so. The fourth installment in the franchise (a franchise that seems to unravel a bit more with each edition) is also under the new direction of Tony Gilroy, previously a writer on the other three Bourne films, but promoted to direct The Bourne Legacy when both Paul Greengrass and Damon pulled out. Though he exhibited restrained directorial skill in the subtle and slow spy simmerer Michael Clayton–a movie with only one explosion, mind you, not counting Tilda Swinton’s fiery hair–Gilroy seems to try too hard to match the rigid pace and whiplash of the previous Bournes, like a little brother mimicking.
When we meet Renner’s Agent (here named Cross), he is deep in the thick of Alaskan wilderness, training obediently for something unknown, and seemingly addicted to medication. Following Renner, who’s always ranged in various shades of pissed-off in his roles in Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol, The Avengers, and The Hurt Locker, it’s good to see him finally relax the furrowed brow a little and show that he can smile, even if he only laughs self-consciously at the United States for shooting at its soldiers as if shooting itself in the legs. Edward Norton co-stars as Eric Byer, a retired Air Force colonel and the man behind the trigger, enlisted to help clean up yet another US Military Black Ops mess of regret. Cross questions his obedience to the government in ways Jason Bourne was too enraged to do, because Cross is what Bourne could never be; he’s not out for revenge, he’s just running for his life from an indifferent country that only wants him out as a loose end. In a flashback between the two men, Byer justifies their controversial purpose to Cross by saying, “We are morally indefensible, and absolutely necessary,” an encapsulation of the Bourne films’ notion that lines are fine that lie between morality and national patriotism.
To fit the formula, Cross’ love interest is played by the ever-talented Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing, a biochemist involved with engineering and administering experiments on these Black Ops agents. Weisz has always played a good victim, and here she is again, actually looking younger than she ever has, and is believably intelligent, while remaining out of her depths on the lam with Cross.
While the other Bournes had the substance and brains (and at the very least, dialogue that required English subtitles) of their namesake book, The Bourne Legacy is all braun. Those substantive, multilingual dashes through other countries featured clean, crisp, highly creative uncut fight scenes (I still watch The Bourne Identity if only to see Damon kick ass using a book), but this is little different than any other action flick, with only an echo of the Bournes that came before. In fact, if it didn’t say Bourne in the title and mention Treadstone every ten minutes, it wouldn’t be recognizable as a Bourne movie. That said, it’s still an action flick, and it provides such, amounting to little more than another item on America’s movie franchise fast food dollar menu. Indeed, while The Bourne Legacy has a little kick to it, it goes down too quickly and without much to remember.
When The Bourne Identity was released, there were many comparisons to it as being the American James Bond. Maybe such a label more accurately describes the franchise than the character. As we do with Bond, maybe we will each eventually have our favorite era of Bourne to debate over.