When are solid action, good actors and only a semiidiotic spy plot not good enough for summer-movie escapism? When they stand in a long shadow, that’s when. And The Bourne Legacy is dwarfed by the three smash Bourne movies (one from director Doug Liman, two from Paul Greengrass) that preceded it.
The biggest miss is the absence of Matt Damon as amnesiac CIA agent Jason Bourne. Wait a minute. How can you have a Bourne movie without Bourne? It’s called making sure a profitable series keeps laying golden box-office eggs. So director Tony Gilroy, who participated in writing the other film adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne bestsellers, came up with a new character. He’s Aaron Cross, an operative who is genetically enhanced in mind and body as long as he takes a blue pill and a green pill at certain intervals. Hurt Locker Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner plays this series of tics as if it added up to an actual character. Good on him. But the plot strains to bursting as CIA suit Eric Byer (a snarling Edward Norton) conspires to eliminate Aaron and all traces of the program that produced him. That leaves Aaron at the mercy of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz, slumming gracefully), a genetic scientist who needs to get Aaron to the Philippines for more pills. Don’t ask.
Gilroy stages two riveting shootouts involving Marta at work and home. And there’s a killer chase scene in Manila as the bad guys try to knock Aaron and Marta off their speeding motorcycle. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing except a desperate need to feed a franchise.