Courtesy of Universal Pictures
When “The Bourne Identity” first came out in theaters in 2002, it introduced a new type of action hero. Gone was the suave, debonair class of James Bond. Jason Bourne was a gritty, morally ambiguous and ruthless killer who ushered in a new age of modern action films, fitting for the disillusionment of the post-9/11 era.
But 10 years later, what happens after the birth of the modern action movie?
Not much it seems. “The Bourne Legacy” retreads a lot of old ground, literally. Half of the movie takes place during the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the third film in the original trilogy. The film immediately throws in a new group of characters who are there to clean up the mess that Bourne made. In order to prevent the news media from uncovering any more of the CIA’s many black ops programs, this group of bona fide government janitors, led by Edward Norton’s (“Moonrise Kingdom”) Colonel Eric Byer, decide to kill all their field agents in Operation Outcome.
Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, “The Avengers”) is one of these agents, though he spends much of the beginning of the film climbing mountains while blissfully unaware of the doomed fate his superiors have planned for him. When he catches on, he seeks out his former doctor Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, “Dream House”), a research scientist working on genetic enhancement, and together they go on a globe-trotting expedition.
As with many an overambitious film, the tone is quite uneven. The beginning seamlessly continues the frantic, edgy pace of the previous film. But with little context and no strong characters to latch on to, the viewer becomes lost. The film tries desperately to link itself to Bourne, but the connection is weak at best.
It’s when the movie steps out from under the shadow of Bourne and lets Cross take the reins. Renner is magnetic, charismatic and surprisingly sassy in the role as the last living agent in his program. He carries the movie with ease, brooding at the appropriate moments and pulling off the fight scenes with a kind of smug bravado. He’s an utterly captivating actor to watch, though he deserves a better action movie than this.
The rest of the cast paled in comparison, except for perhaps Norton. He gave a restrained, but had a subtly menacing performance as Byer. Sadly, Norton and Renner only had one short flashback together, barely enough time for any sort of satisfying showdown.
As the love interest, Weisz was naturally relegated to a more submissive role. However, her character was unimpressive, though Weisz did get the chance to look constantly frenzied and panicked.
“The Bourne Legacy” lacks the grand conspiracy plots of its predecessors, putting on the illusion of complexity with fast cuts and loaded dialogue. But it all comes down to a simple plot of cat-and-mouse, which when done well is an action movie at its finest.