THE BOURNE LEGACY. Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachael Weisz, Edward Norton, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn. Directed by Tony Gilroy. Rated M (Violence and mature themes). 135 min.
This is the fourth film to contain the word "Bourne" in its title (together with "The Bourne Identity", 2002; "The Bourne Supremacy", 2004; and "The Bourne Ultimatum", 2007). Jason Bourne, a CIA agent and former assassin, who suffers from extreme memory loss, features in the novels of Robert Ludlum, and the previous three films have all starred Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.
Five years later, a new character emerges, and Jason Bourne does not actually appear in this movie at all, except in conversation, inscriptions, and photographs. The movie also has a different Director (Tony Gilroy). Some of the past characters remain in very brief appearances, like Deputy Director, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Dr. Albert Hirsch (Albert Finney), but there is a host of new characters to fuel the action.
Fresh from "The Avengers" (2012), the hero of this movie is Jeremy Renner, who plays the part of a colleague of Bourne, Aaron Cross. Cross is a biologically-modified agent, working for a CIA-unit that trains super-spies. He is participant No. 5 in "Operation Outcome", which is a program for enhancing the mental and physical abilities of CIA agents through the use of experimental drugs. The powers-that-be are worried that links will be made between Operation Outcome and Operation Treadstone (Jason Bourne's Operation), as well as other CIA programs, and orders are given to annihilate all participants in Operation Outcome in the name of national security. To defend democracy in the way it thinks best, Government makes immoral decisions to kill its own people, and Cross, who remains the only participant still alive in Operation Outcome, is being hunted down.
Rachel Weisz plays the role of Dr. Marta Shearling, a bio-chemist, who is employed by Operation Outcome and administers the drugs. Her demise is wanted too, and she teams up with Cross, when she realises the consequences of what she has been doing. With Marta in tow, Cross is pursued by his operations head, Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who is the villain of the movie. Cross's predicament gives special meaning to the title-word "legacy", because his life is in danger from events covered in previous Bourne movies.
The movie shares with the previous three films in the series, all the elements that characterise thrillers of this type. The villain has secrets, there is a national threat to true democracy and romantic interest, conspiracy abounds, action is everywhere, and spectacular scenes are set in major cities of the world (New York and Manila). Typically, there is a wide assortment of action-packed stunts and chases. They occur here in the snowy regions of Alaska, city streets, sub-way stations, and urban free-ways. Particularly good action sequences in this film are the drone pursuit of Cross in Alaska, and the motor-bike chase through the busy streets of Manila, in which a grim-faced Aaron Cross hurtles through dense traffic with a terrified Dr. Shearling as his willing passenger.
As the film's new director, Tony Gilroy keeps the tension going by engaging in lively plot distractions, and rapid-fire action. There is more than the usual number of plot-twists and turns, which afford significant elements of surprise and unpredictability in the film's story-line. Overall, this is a high-octane movie that aims to be more of a thinking movie, and smarter than its predecessors.
Jeremy Renner has a lot to live up to to match the appeal and sophistication of Matt Damon, and he acts the part differently but tolerably well. Renner might not capture the star quality of Damon's particular kind of spy, but he is a credible hero, who acts with force and vigour. Edward Norton disappoints as the arch-villain. Too much time is spent, explaining why he is obviously so nasty.
The movie allows for the possibility that Jason Bourne may return yet another time, but this film has good suspense, quality special effects, snappy editing, and staccato-style cinematography. Its plot-line may confuse, but it is a movie impressive enough to successfully fulfil most, though not all, of the expectations of a Bourne film, even when Jason Bourne is always in the background, but nowhere to be seen.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out August 16th. 2012.