The Bourne Legacy begins, fittingly, with a nod to The Bourne Identity: a guy floating in the water, photographed from underneath. He's like a fetus in amniotic fluid, ready to pop.
In the 2002 film, of course, the floater turned out to be Matt Damon, fished from the Mediterranean with bullets in his back and no memory of who he was, or what he was. He spent the next two hours, and the next two movies - The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum - trying to put the puzzle of his life back together.
In The Bourne Legacy, it's Jeremy Renner submerged in the H20. Out for a bracing swim in the Alaskan wilds, he emerges bare-chested from the glacial pond and grabs a space blanket. He's got a cave, and a fire, and a backpack with essential gear - primal man, GPS-equipped.
Renner is Aaron Cross, who turns out to share Damon's Jason Bourne pedigree: deep-cover special ops, fine-tuned and fiercely trained, one of "the most valuable intel assets in the field," to quote some Tony Gilroy CIA-speak.
Gilroy wrote the first three Bournes, moved on to write and direct the brilliant Michael Clayton, and coscripted and directs The Bourne Legacy, a momentum-driven thriller that depends less on star power than on epic action sequences.
It takes a while to realize that Renner's secret agent is moving through the world (everywhere from Alaska to the Mid-Atlantic to Manila) about the same time that Bourne was running around in Ultimatum. And the same coterie of ex-military spooks and National Security brass are following him. Yes, if you hunger for Scott Glenn and David Strathairn barking orders and checking the latest satellite feeds, rest assured - they're back! And they're joined by Edward Norton, who has nothing but contempt for "these CIA clowns" who have messed up Operations Blackbriar and Treadstone and whatever this "Outcome" business is.
Unlike Jason Bourne, Aaron Cross has no difficulty with memory-retrieval issues. He has a few mountains to climb, a meet-up in an isolated cabin (with Oscar Isaac as a fellow agent - the two circling each other warily), and then a missile-firing drone to deal with. Cross' issue is medication: His supply of little blue and green pills, which he has come to rely on for the mental and physical acuity they provide, is running out.
Which leads him to a top-secret pharmaceutical lab in the Maryland suburbs, and to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a biochemist who has conveniently ignored significant ethical questions for the sake of scientific discovery. Like Damon and Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity, Renner and Weisz go on the lam in Legacy, with just about the entire military-industrial complex hot on their trail. It's a demanding role for Weisz - not just the airport check-ins with phony passports, the firefights, and the hanging-on-for-dear-life motorcycle rides. She's a complicated woman with her own unhappy backstory, and a cavernous old Victorian tucked away in the woods to worry about, too.
It's at the Sterisyn-Morlanta facility where Marta works that The Bourne Legacy really takes off. Gilroy orchestrates an absolutely chilling lab shooting - a deranged doc on a killing spree - that sends Weisz's character flying out of there, and soon Renner is alongside. Pulse-pounding and suspenseful, the film accelerates, from a fiery confrontation at Marta's house to a masterfully staged, shot, and edited chase sequence that starts in a manufacturing plant in Manila and then literally covers the Philippine capital from one end to the other, as Renner bounds across rooftops and roars around the streets in cars and on bikes, trying to avoid the squad of killers out to get Cross and Shearing.
I can't complain about The Bourne Legacy - it's smart, it's exhilarating, and Gilroy's depiction of a high-tech world where our every move is captured by surveillance cams and Big Brother-types deploying the latest spyware feels authentic, and troubling. (The idea of going off-grid gets more attractive by the minute.) Renner, intense and focused, has already proved his mettle in The Hurt Locker and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. He's not a movie star - he doesn't have that weird innate charisma thing that his Bourne predecessor possesses, and at times you may find yourself wishing he did. But Renner slips into the skin of Aaron Cross. He's keenly cognizant of his place in the world, of the danger he is in, and confident in his abilities to survive.
And that's what Legacy is ultimately about: survival. Survival of the fittest, of the fastest. And the likely survival of the Bourne franchise, too.
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