The fourth installment of the “Bourne” franchise dispenses with Matt Damon, who took a pass this time, and instead gives us Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, another off-the-grid special forces agent with a grudge.
Unlike Jason Bourne (Damon), Aaron has a mostly intact memory, but it all amounts to the same thing. He was part of a program called Operation Outcome that, with the help of a regular regimen of little blue and green pills, greatly enhanced his mental and physical capacities. With Jason “infecting” top-secret programs as a renegade loose in New York (this film dovetails the conclusion of “The Bourne Ultimatum”), the über-ops bad guy played by Edward Norton decides Aaron and his Outcome cohorts have to go bye-bye.
Running from CIA assassins and government agents, Aaron’s main motivation here is pharmaceutical. He’s run out of those pills. Enter genetic scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who has been on the top-secret government payroll but sees the light. She helps engineer Aaron’s chemical make-over – but not before a lot of shootouts and chase scenes culminating in a smackdown in Manila. Thanks to a skimpy back story, the stalwart Renner is somewhat characterless. Director and co-writer Tony Gilroy, a veteran of the “Bourne” series, is good at scenes of high-level nastiness, but there’s too much confusing exposition in this “Legacy” and the action scenes, some of them good, are too little and too late.
The fourth movie based on the espionage-thriller novels of Robert Ludlum comes to the screen with its name brand intact and its dark, dangerous, cloak-and-dagger world as treacherous as ever, but with its familiar leading man in hiding.
Matt Damon, who played tormented, always-on-the-run assassin Jason Bourne in the three previous movies, opted not to return. Into the breach, however, steps Jeremy Renner as a new character, Aaron Cross, who is introduced as another cog in the same ruthless, government-controlled, über-spook machine that turned Bourne into a hunted, haunted killer.
This time around, a major news story is about to break about the deep-cover operation, which specializes—as one character puts it—in the “morally indefensible and absolutely necessary” tasks that have to be done to take out the world’s trash.
The secret program’s agitated officials, worried about the disastrous consequences of such exposure, decide to shut everything down and erase the evidence of its dirty work, particularly the viral re-engineering program that makes its operatives stronger, smarter and less sensitive to pain. It’s the super-spy equivalent of steroids, with a hard-wired DNA twist.
Shutting down the program also means the elimination of all their highly trained operatives who have now become liabilities—like Cross, who suddenly finds himself on a hit list and cut off from the “meds” his brain and body has been conditioned to need to keep functioning.
Rachel Weisz plays a sympathetic scientist who holds the key to Cross’ survival. Edward Norton and Stacy Keach are the retired military bureaucrats calling the control-room shots as they track Cross in a deadly game of global cat-and-mouse.
If you haven’t seen any of the previous “Bourne” movies, you’ll probably find yourself grasping to hang on to the plot, which refers frequently to things that happened in the earlier Damon dynasty. But Renner is a capable action star, doing many of his own stunts, and Tony Gilroy, slipping into the director’s chair for the first time after screenwriting for the three other three films, keeps things “real” with slam-bang action that relies on practically no computer-generated special effects.