With Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris. Written by Tony Gilroy & Dan Gilroy. Directed by Dan Gilroy. Rated PG-13 (for violence and action sequences). 135 minutes.
The “Bourne” films had only a tangential connection to the Robert Ludlum novels on which they were supposedly based, so the idea of continuing them after director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon decided to move on is hardly sacrilege. Rather than “reboot” the series (as with the recent “The Amazing Spider-Man”), THE BOURNE LEGACY elects to continue it by telling a story that is parallel to the original trilogy. In fact, several cast members from the earlier films, including Joan Allen and David Strathairn, have cameos here.
What we learn is that Bourne is not the only agent who has been carefully prepared to do the dirty work of the CIA, but there have been other agents in place as well. Now that this program is about to be exposed, the powers that be, led by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), decide to shut it down and cover their tracks. This means killing those special agents still out in the field. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is not prepared to go down without a fight.
The first part of the film is where it works best, as the convoluted conspiracy goes into play and starts to unravel because Cross turns out to be a wild card. Killing off the agents also involves killing off all the scientists involved, but somehow Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) manages to survive. Since Cross needs special medication to continue, he tracks down Shearing and suddenly they have a reason to work together. As he points out, the alternative is for her to go her own way and then for him to try to get cooperation from the people who will come to kill her.
Clearly the film is meant to kick off a new Bourne series, possibly enticing Matt Damon back, but ready to go on without him. By the end, we know that the government officials who have targeted Cross and Shearing will stop at nothing and that the continued existence of the agent and the scientist puts them at jeopardy. Along the way there are a number of action set pieces including a bravura chase through Manila on foot and on motorcycle that plays out like a game of three-dimensional chess. The end of the film is not so much a resolution as a pause. The studio obviously hopes it stands for a big sign that reads “to be continued.”
As with the previous “Bourne” movies, this is not merely an action movie but one that wants you to try to figure out the complex conspiracy as well as to deal with the characters as more than movie icons. The story gets simpler as it progresses – helping Cross overcome his dependency on government-issued drugs – yet the characters remain complex. Renner (whose credits include “The Hurt Locker,” “The Town,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “The Avengers”) is a star on the rise, able to handle both the action and the acting without a problem. Weisz is no arm candy, deftly playing the scientist thrown into a violent scenario. She needs to show her character is out of her element, and isn’t simply a cartoon damsel in distress. The supporting cast is outstanding with Norton, Stacy Keach and Dennis Boutsikaris sweating up a storm as the conspirators trying to cover their tracks.
“The Bourne Legacy” is set up as a saga that needs to expand on its story. It is likely that they will have ample opportunity to do so.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.