The Bourne Legacy (12A/PG-13, 135 mins)
Director: Tony Gilroy
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Reboot fever strikes once again, extending a franchise its owners obviously think has plenty life left in it, even if its star has other ideas.
Matt Damon’s departure from the spy series could have signalled its end, but in a rare move for a reboot, not only is its star replaced, but the main character.
Signs going in are encouraging enough, with a new star in Jeremy Renner who has shown twice in the past few months that he’s perfectly at home in an ongoing action franchise. And as we saw in The Bourne Identity, when it came to super-assassins, there was never just one, so the series has been primed from the start for spinoffs and continuations, even if unintentionally.
The Bourne Legacy begins as Identity did, and as Ultimatum ended, with a body floating in the water. But this is no corpse, it’s Renner’s Aaron Cross, on a training mission in Alaska fuelled by pills and injections.
Wisely it’s not a slave to formula, and Cross is not just another amnesiac. So we’re introduced to Rachel Weisz’s scientist as a way in to a government-backed conspiracy run by Ed Norton that’s been producing pharmaceutically enhanced soldiers, of which Cross is one.
The spectre of Jason Bourne still looms large over this, with the story actually taking place concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum, for reasons that at first look like they might be quite interesting, but which turn out to be fairly spurious.
Norton has been looking into the CIA programmes that spawned Jason Bourne, Treadstone and Black Briar, which it would seem are only a small part of parallel programmes at risk if the Bourne situation explodes, leading Norton to shut it down, but not reckoning on Cross surviving.
Director Tony Gilroy comes on board to replace Paul Greengrass, who many credited for much of what was good about Supremacy and Ultimatum. Yet Gilroy has form, as writer of the original trilogy, and as director of Michael Clayton. And looking at the results here, Clayton is the film it resembles more than most, a talky yet largely compelling affair that forgoes action for intrigue, with a lot of science thrown around without pause for breath or explanation.
Every effort is made, sometimes too much effort, to shoehorn this into the Bourne universe, and it would certainly help to have some familiarity with the previous movies to have any hope of keeping up with a labyrinthine plot.
So it’s sure not dumb, its crisp, high-level dialogue driving several lengthy dramatic scenes. And yet the first proper action is a long time coming, with plenty downtime until the next sequence making this, whisper it, occasionally a trifle dull.
The bursts of hand to hand combat are as rapid and brutal as ever, but they're thin on the ground. Renner’s Cross is composed and wry, much more talkative than Bourne ever was, and when he’s able to use his skills and training to get out of impossible situations, the film certainly comes alive.
So if you're expecting more of the same, you’re not going to get it, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even if it often tries hard not to be, The Bourne Legacy is very much its own beast, a conspiracy drama that’s fine on those terms, but which suffers in comparison with its forebears.