What started as a promising summer movie season has degenerated into a string of remakes, lame reboots and stretched-out franchises delivering minimal entertainment.
When Universal decided to forge ahead with the Bourne franchise after Matt Damon, a.k.a. Jason Bourne, decided to call it quits, they were looking for a glorious changing of the guard—something akin to when Daniel Craig took over for Pierce Brosnan as 007.
What they get with The Bourne Legacy is something closer to the vibe when Roberto Benigni replaced Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther franchise.
OK, that’s a little harsh. I’ll scale it back a little bit.
Jeremy Renner taking over for Damon in this franchise feels like the underwhelming switcheroo that occurred when Andrew Garfield took over for Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man. Renner, like Garfield, is a good actor. But he doesn’t command a movie like Damon can, no matter how good The Hurt Locker was. In taking over for Damon, Renner is going to draw comparisons, and he isn’t nearly as good as Damon as the Bourne centerpiece.
Renner is better as a supporting player like Hawkeye in The Avengers or whoever the hell he played in the latest Mission: Impossible movie.
The story trotted out for this one involves a parallel plot to the last Damon installment, The Bourne Ultimatum, when Damon was running around kicking ass in New York. Renner plays Aaron Cross, another scientific experiment with amplified strength and intelligence thanks to magic drugs.
When the film opens, we see Cross alone in the wilderness climbing wintry mountains and shooting drones out of the sky due to his super strength and super eyesight. He’s a man on some sort of mission, running low on the miracle drugs that make him a super strong smarty-pants. This concerns him.
Back in the world of computer screens, suits and sticks up the asses, a group of military/government types led by Retired Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton, looking for another franchise after totally blowing it with The Hulk), are looking to wipe out the program that birthed the likes of Cross and Bourne. While Bourne wreaks havoc in Manhattan, and Cross evades wolves in the mountains, the government is trying to cover up the whole mess by killing the other superhumans and the doctors who created them.
The plot actually feels a bit desperate, taking what was a good initial premise and stretching it thin in order to keep the cash cow rolling. The glimpses we get of Damon’s photo during news reports make us wish for the true presence of Damon. It’s not generally a good idea to remind viewers of superior movies while watching yours.
Writer-director Tony Gilroy, who wrote the three previous Bourne screenplays, actually does put together a couple of decent action sequences. The early scenes with Cross fighting drones are fairly suspenseful, as is a shootout in a renovated house.
For every good action sequence, there’s a stinker, like the final chase scene involving motorcycles and another superhuman guy trying to chase down Cross. The whole sequence feels slapped together, a poorly edited mess that’s actually hilarious in how bad it is.
Rachel Weisz costars as a whiny doctor who helped to make the superhuman agents and manages to escape the powers that be with Cross. She’s involved in that final motorcycle chase, which features her hanging off the motorbike in one instance that looks totally staged and fake.
Damon, formerly reluctant to the idea of doing another Bourne film, has recently said he would reconsider if there were a good script. Producer Frank Marshall has been crowing about the idea of Renner and Damon in a future installment.
That sounds like a good idea to me. Give Damon his franchise back and let Renner do one of the things he does best: supporting action mega-stars in the franchises they have already established.
Either that, or write a better movie than The Bourne Legacy for Renner.