Franchise fatigue has officially hit the “Bourne” saga, as “The Bourne Legacy” attempts to keep the franchise going without leading man Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass, whose frenetic and breathless direction made the last two installments the modern bellwether of adrenaline-charged action.
This time out, the ingredients are all there, but the proportions are completely off-kilter.
In the previous “Bourne” movies, we could count on about 30 percent "people in rooms with computer screens yelling into phones" and 70 percent "Matt Damon jumping off things and shooting people in the face."
This time out, for unfathomable reasons, it’s about 60/40, making for an oft-tedious glob of exposition that’s only occasionally interspersed with breathtaking fights and chases.
If nothing else, “The Bourne Legacy” is an object lesson about what the phrase “cut to the chase” means.
Director Tony Gilroy (who co-wrote this one with brother Dan Gilroy and who also has a screenplay credit on the three previous “Bourne” outings) assumes that the audience really, really wants to know about the inner workings of the secret projects that developed not only Jason Bourne but also a whole crew of physically and mentally enhanced super spies. With Bourne having gone public in New York in “Ultimatum,” all eyes are on the program while Col. Byer (Edward Norton) and his team go fully into damage-control mode.
That means wiping out the surviving agents, including one Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), as well as the doctors and scientists involved. As you might imagine, Cross manages to slip through the net, and his next move is to rescue Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) in the hopes that she can continue to supply him with the pills that keep him smarter and stronger and faster than the mere mortal he once was.
The ultimate legacy of “The Bourne Legacy” is that a lot of very talented actors (including Donna Murphy, Corey Stoll, Stacy Keach and Zeljko Ivanek) will now be able to afford to do Ibsen in the Park next summer, thanks to the fat Hollywood check they picked up for a movie that asks little of them but to point at screens and bark out some version of “arglebargle-science-jargon-bring-him-in!”
Renner meets the challenge of creating a character out of someone who has been specifically designed to be a blank slate by allowing this government-manufactured killing machine to have a soul and even a vulnerability or two. And while there’s not much heavy lifting required of Weisz, she’s neither helpless girl nor Superwoman; her responses feel like the genuine emotions of an intelligent woman suddenly caught up in life-and-death circumstances beyond her control.
When “The Bourne Legacy” finally does let the stunt team out to play, the movie feels of a piece with its thrilling predecessors, from Aaron’s face-off with a house full of would-be assailants to a stirring motorcycle chase through Manila. But when we cut back all too often to people at desks throwing files around and harrumphing over monitors, the film’s pulse grows way too slack.
Seeing a “Bourne” film for the plotting feels like reading Playboy for the articles, but if that’s your thing, this is your movie.