“The Bourne Legacy,” written by Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, and Robert Ludlum (Bourne series, inspiration), directed by Tony Gilroy, 135 minutes, rated PG-13.
Director Tony Gilroy is not Paul Greengrass. Jeremy Renner is not Matt Damon. And Jason Bourne is not walking through that door.
“The Bourne Legacy” feels like it’s living in the shadows of its predecessors, particularly “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Bourne Supremacy.” And who can blame them? After all, Paul Greengrass redefined the action genre with the two final installments of the series. But the first 30 minutes of “Legacy” is filled with so many Jason Bourne references, it feels like he’s the wet blanket on the inauguration of Renner’s Aaron Cross.
Cross, along with other agents in a new CIA program titled Operation Outcome, is a more jacked-up Jason Bourne. The initiative provides agents with chemicals to enhance their strength and mental capabilities, but after Bourne (who never appears on camera) exposes Operation Blackbriar and the Treadstone Project to the public, retired Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) takes the initiative to kill off each member of Operation Outcome as a security measure, except Cross.
The betrayal sends Cross on a desperation search for more chemicals to keep him physically and mentally sharp with Byer and the CIA on his tail. Along the way, Cross takes Dr. Marta Shearing (the age-defying Rachel Weisz), another CIA target and the sole survivor of a lab shooting to eliminate the program’s key scientists, under his protection.
“Legacy” lacks the signature Greengrass style fans have come to expect from the series, but that’s not to say the action here is bad. To the contrary, it’s quite well done, though you could probably count the number of car chases and shootouts on one hand. Gilroy’s bread and butter, however, isn’t action, but building tension a la 2007’s “Michael Clayton.” He does a nice job of that here, layering suspenseful dialogue with a taut score by James Newton Howard. However, “Legacy” is much wordier than the original trilogy, and it seems to take a lot longer to reach its destination.
Then there’s Renner, who has the onerous task of carrying this reboot on his back. He has the personality and intensity necessary to pull it off. But as this series progresses, I’d like to see Renner distinguish Cross a little bit more, and distance himself from that Bourne attitude.
In time, this spinoff will likely find its footing, and hopefully become its own entity, with only undertones of the groundwork laid by Greengrass and Damon. “The Bourne Legacy,” however, is just a starting point to that. But it’s enough for me, at least, for now.