Film review: The Bourne Legacy

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Jeremy Renner furthers the thematic cat-and-mouse plot line in The Bourne Legacy.

The best way to enjoy The Bourne Legacy is by not having seen the other three Bourne films. (Oops.) That way, those trilogy tidbits which play out again here, as a sort of instigating background action, won’t seem redundant but instead like alluring ads for the better and more adroitly managed movies that still await you.

This time inspired by the books of Robert Ludlum rather than adapted from them, The Bourne Legacy was written and directed by a writer of its three predecessors, Tony Gilroy, along with his brother Dan. Matt Damon isn’t around—except in a passport photo, fittingly enough—but Jeremy Renner is here as another secret super agent ducking out on his dubious federal employers and consequently dodging extreme prejudice termination.

Alert, affable, and only violent when absolutely necessary, Renner gets across the plot-driving idea that he was a regular grunt once, and his extraordinary mental and physical sharpness actually is a matter of pharmacological enhancement. Indeed, drama is derived not just from his rescue/abduction of a research scientist (and requisite nursemaid) played by Rachel Weisz, but also from the perpetual worry that he’ll run out of pills to pop.

Like Damon before him, he’s presented as the product of a sinister intelligence division that’s desperate to protect its own secrecy and ominously adept at surveilling, controlling, and shutting people down. The chief operator there is a steely-eyed Edward Norton, looking quite at home in dark rooms full of video monitors, chewing out his subordinates or supervising drone strikes against them. It’s thanks to the actual Bourne having blown the division’s cover, and Norton’s scorched-earth response, that Renner’s guy becomes a target.

The Bourne legacy, then, is a military-industrial complex in lethal bureaucratic panic. And Gilroy, the shady-dealings enthusiast, also of Michael Clayton fame, goes about his business like an espionage wonk. His idea of suspense is cross-cutting between fairly boring scenes that swear they’ll build to something eventually. But he’s good at earnest, jargony banter, and those portentous moments when characters face off and size each other up, thinking or saying, “How do I know that you’re even cleared for this conversation?” Maybe the best thing about this movie is its commitment to an authentic aura of agitated bureaucratese.

Maybe the worst thing, and likely proof that three films really was enough, is its nervous urge toward demystification. Chemically abetted gene tweaking seems like comic-book superhero stuff, and ordinarily that’s fine, but where this otherwise proudly plausible franchise is concerned, it’s disappointing—dangerously close to that ruinous moment in the Star Wars prequel when the Force was explained away as something precisely measurable and molecular.

It is intriguing to think that without his mental-boosting dope our hero is sort of a dummy—and frustrating, therefore, that Renner doesn’t get a real regression to play with, unless you count the entirety of this movie.

The Bourne Legacy /PG-13, 135 minutes/Regal Downtown Mall 6

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