Film Review: The Bourne Legacy

When the CIA shuts down an illicit program, agent Aaron Cross becomes a target in an international chase. Uneven 'Bourne' entry will disappoint die-hard fans of the series.

The latest franchise reboot to hit theatres, The Bourne Legacy adds a new hero to the series but sticks with the same old plot. Talky and short on action, the film will leave fans on hold and other filmgoers unimpressed.

The movie picks up where The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) left off, and even incorporates scenes from the previous movie to set up the plot. Agent Jason Bourne's efforts to expose covert programs force CIA "fixer" Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to shut down Program Outcome, which uses viral mapping to give agents near-superpowers. (In Byer's logic, shutting down Outcome means killing the participants.)

Outcome Agent #5 is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), first seen diving into Arctic rivers and fighting off wolves in a solo training mission in Alaska. Narrowly avoiding termination from a rocket-armed drone, Renner makes his way to a CIA lab in Maryland in search of the drugs he needs to stay operative.

Outcome research scientist Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) escapes a shooting spree that leaves most of her colleagues dead. Cross rescues her from CIA agents out to kill her during debriefing, then persuades her to fly with him to Manila, where his drugs are manufactured.

Byer and his team, egged on by retired admiral Mark Turso (Stacey Keach) and big pharma exec Terrence Ward (Dennis Boutsikaris), close in on Cross and Marta. Byer eventually enlists LARX 3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), the latest super-agent prototype, to battle Cross on the streets of Manila.

That's a lot of plot for a pretty straightforward chase film. As he did in Michael Clayton and Duplicity, director Tony Gilroy (who also co-wrote with his brother Dan) complicates the storyline by shuffling time frames, withholding information, and using dialogue laden with jargon and acronyms.

All the obfuscation can't hide the fact that a lot of The Bourne Legacy repeats itself. Cross makes a move; ten minutes later Byer's team tracks him, showing viewers what they just saw. The Bourne Legacy is missing the layers and nuances of earlier episodes. Cross isn't out to expose Outcome or avenge a loss, he's just a junkie after drugs.

Renner can handle the physical requirements of his role, but he doesn't add much depth to Cross' character. As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon battled anger and remorse as he struggled to discover his identity. Renner, on the other hand, seems remote and humorless.

Norton's performance is notable mostly for how fast he talks. Weisz does okay in a role that requires her to be in a state of panic most of the time. Bourne veterans like David Strathairn and Joan Allen are limited to cameos, although their characters presumably will have more to do in the sequel.

Action in The Bourne Legacy is in short supply. Some critics complained about the relentless pace and handheld camera favored by director Paul Greengrass in two earlier entries, but the action in those films was both hard-hitting and extremely realistic—something that trained agents might actually do. Here the stunts are clearly impossible but also curiously uninvolving. If Cross has superpowers, nothing's really at stake when he leaps across rooftops or knocks out opponents.

That said, The Bourne Legacy has its share of tense moments, including a vivid staging of a lab massacre that echoes recent news events. Ultimately Gilroy delivers a big, expensive production that has the look and feel, if not the heart, of a blockbuster.