The Bourne Legacy
Directed by Tony Gilroy
A regurgitative policy with harrowing side effects is the bread-and-butter of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels and, now, movies: the C.I.A. appears as a sprawling Moloch, chewing up zealots, spitting them out, and replacing them with even sallower remixes of themselves: Julia Stiles for Joan Allen for David Straithairn; Brian Cox for Albert Finney for Stacy Keach; and so on. As “Aaron Cross” (OR IS HE?), Jeremy Renner is a more than decent trade for Matt Damon's lovably blockheaded Jason Bourne, who managed to hop continents and assassinate plenty of people across three movies without ever succumbing to pure rage or even much introspection about it. (At one press junket for The Bourne Supremacy
—when that lefty Paul Greengrass began helming—Damon stressed how much he loved that the movie's climax was Bourne running someone down to apologize to them.)
Treadstone. Blackbriar. Operation Outcome. Taking over from Greengrass, Tony Gilroy (who has written or cowritten most of these) promises that "there was never just one" agent or program, and Legacy
tries in earnest to differentiate itself from its priors while complicating, and not just aping, their bleak totalitarianism. This is a world of cheap fluorescent lighting, endless American flags, and lots and lots of deli coffee. It's not hard to see where Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit (punching depressingly below his weight here) thought they could co-opt the summer blockbuster format to jostle audiences into some kind of political awakening. In the first half hour, Renner manages to slice a tracking device out of his own belly, trick a wolf into eating it, and single-handedly dispatch a Predator drone...
The experience of Bourne-without-Bourne is an experience worth having, if you're willing to swap $13 for two hours in a world where a madman goes on a shooting spree and only people who don't look like Rachel Weisz are killed. Deep in a thicket of "plot"—post-Damon, the government is killing off all of its super-agents, side characters from prior entries are testifying to the Senate, etc.—there is finally some actual story: Renner is addicted to performance-enhancing drugs, Weisz is beyond traumatized from the massacre, and they meet cute. Chasing them down, Edward Norton is terrific as The Heavy, a traditional dude-in-command-center-yelling type: he brings a little old time religion to it, some hardcore Bush administration certitude, a kind of grim B-side of his pathetic Moonrise Kingdom scoutmaster. In one brief, surreal flashback (sweaty armpits, unspecified country), he beseeches Renner: “It would be perfectly normal for a person to have doubts about the morality of what we just asked you to do. But, I need you on that flight to Yemen tonight!”
Opens August 10