The Bourne Legacy

Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, a jowly Edward Norton, assorted cannon fodder
Rating: 2.5 stars (of five)

I was engaged all the way through The Bourne Legacy. I paid attention and I wanted to know what happened next.  I found bits to be excited about, when the film ventured beyond its by-the-bloody-numbers script, but when I look back on it, I realize that my interest was largely force of habit.

I understood that Jeremy Renner was the antihero pursued by a cruel government machine, and that Rachel Weisz was a theoretically innocent victim destined to become his romantic interest, but the film really only passably presents all this, and stitches it together with just enough action before sending you home still hungry for a real story with characters you can relate to or care about.

Also, in retrospect, the opening Alaska wilderness is too long, but you don’t need retrospect for the climactic Manilla chase sequence, which ends with a motorcycle chase so pointlessly, ennervatingly long you nearly forget why you’re watching the movie at all.  It’s so out of whack with the film’s pleasant balance of quick action and bland character scenes you call the success of the entire project into question.

This film begins as the previous Bourne film, in which Matt Damon largely exposed the evil of the CIA and died, but didh’t. Jeremy Renner turns out to be another super assassin working at the same time Jason Bourne is setting the clandestine world on fire.  Bourne’s actions force the agency to shut down all its creepy super-assassin programs, and that means killing people like Renner.

So Renner is running for his life.  He seeks out Weisz because she might be able to provide him with the medicines he needs to maintain his chemically enhanced ninja skills, and Weisz needs to run because, as the government kills its pet assassins, it is also killing related functionaries, such as the researchers and other lab monkeys who kept the killers in deadly shape.

But it’s all flat.  Nothing feels unexpected or original or even very interesting, as scripted.  The saving grace is the performances of Weisz and Renner, which pull the film beyond the muck of storyline left over from the Damon trilogy.  Characters from the earlier film get cameos as they prepare to testify in court, or not, about the dastardly doings of the CIA, which are technically covered in this movie, but you’d better be paying attention, ’cause it goes by pretty quick.

One highlight: There’s a scene in the arctic, part of an overlong Alaska sequence, where Renner meets another chemical ninja, and he becomes really engaged as he asks questions. He’s livelier, more curious, more interested and interesting than Damon’s Jason Bourne was.  My screening companion observed that Renner may have been putting on a falsely engaging front to obtain information–he’s quite the con man when needed–but either way, I missed that surprising character as the rest of the film required him to be on-mission against the squads of faceless killers trying to take him out.

Second highlight:  Renner is a programmed killer, but Weisz plays a scientist utterly unprepared for the carnage that suddenly surrounds her.  She brings a real terror, a real grief, a real PTSD vibe to the part, and that makes the film feel like something other than a late-summer, mid-budget thriller.  (Unfortunately, it’s not something other than a late-summer, mid-budget thriller.)

Coming out of the theater, I was thinking, “Give it three, three-and-a-half stars.”  But as I reflected, I realized the film’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, without much real meaning or impact because I don’t really get into the characters.  The film ends in such a way that there is no need for a further installment, though a next episode would easily be concocted.  I would argue that the film leaves absolutely no questions unanswered, and there should not be a followup.  Of course, if it makes enough money, eventually we’ll have Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner joining together for a film that can only be called, Bourne Again.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.