It takes chutzpah to make a film called The Bourne Legacy without Matt Damon or, for that matter, a character named Bourne. That the movie turned out as well as it has is a tribute to co-writer and director Tony Gilroy (who worked on all three previous films in the series) and Jeremy Renner, who is perfectly cast in the lead. The results may not be perfect, but they’re good enough to provide the kind of action and storytelling that Bourne fans expect.
Jeremy Renner has earned his way to this high-profile part, doing exceptional work since his vault to widespread recognition in The Hurt Locker. He has the required intensity and physicality to make his character—a highly-trained, genetically enhanced undercover agent—completely believable. What’s more, he’s well matched with leading lady Rachel Weisz. She’s equally credible as a research doctor who, like Renner, becomes a pawn and potential victim when the powers-that-be turn on the worker bees in their worldwide network.
Gilroy (who co-wrote the film with his brother Dan) doesn’t skimp on high-octane action, from Renner’s introductory scenes of survival in a snowy wilderness, to his violent first meeting with Weisz, through a slam-bang chase climax. I dare not describe any of these in detail lest I spoil your fun.
Where The Bourne Legacy trips up is in the scenes involving Edward Norton as the cold-blooded ringmaster of that covert U.S. agency. They are so densely written and overloaded with indecipherable jargon that they border on self-parody. What’s more, they eat up an awful lot of time in this already lengthy film. (In a downright silly gesture, there are ridiculously brief appearances by David Strathairn and Joan Allen, which are supposed to strengthen the link between this film and the earlier Bourne stories. The ruse is transparent and unnecessary. But I do need someone to explain why the great Albert Finney turns up for approximately thirty seconds midway through the picture.)
On balance, the movie works. I wish it weren’t so long, and I could do without some of those scenes with Norton. I also wish so much of the movie weren’t shot in macro-close-up. (I don’t need to count the pores on the actors’ faces, thank you.) But I was entertained, especially during those action scenes, and at this point in the summer I’m more than grateful for that.