As the fourth installment of the "Bourne" franchise, "The Bourne Legacy" fails in two major ways that practically contradict each other.
The first is that it requires a sharp memory of plot details from 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum." I don't believe viewers should be required to remember the finer points of a movie that came out five years ago.
Fortunately, I was prepared, having watched the Matt Damon "Bourne" trilogy earlier in the day. Which brings me to the film's second and more unforgiveable failing: it has incredibly little to do with the Matt Damon "Bourne" trilogy.
First, Matt Damon as Jason Bourne does not appear in the film. Some of the characters talk about him, we see photos, and I think some brief footage from the previous movies.
But new footage of Damon is nowhere to be found, not even in a cameo. I wondered how the film could be a "Bourne" film without Bourne. My theory was that because Bourne was actually just a code name for the Damon character, maybe the name would be bestowed on the new lead character played by Jeremy Renner.
This is actually a popular theory with the James Bond franchise, that James Bond is a code name given to a series of distinct agents and not one ageless agent that changes his appearance every decade. But no, the Renner character goes by the name Aaron Cross and "Bourne" is clearly in the title just so people will connect it to the earlier, better films.
"Legacy"'s loose connection to the rest of the franchise is that Cross is going through a CIA assassin training program similar to Bourne's. The programs have some bureaucrats in common and we get brief appearances here by familiar characters played by David Strathairn, Joan Allen and Albert Finney. The film parallels the events of "The Bourne Ultimatum" to the point where some scenes are unapologetically recycled.
The plot is set in motion when Bourne's actions make the CIA nervous that all their secret operations will soon be exposed. They decide to shut down the new program by killing all the assassins and the scientists who turn them into super-agents. Most of the assassins are eliminated by a simple change in medication, but for some reason the CIA goes to the trouble of sending a big noisy weapon after Cross. He survives, as does a scientist played by Rachel Weisz.
Together they flee to the Philippines where Cross can end his dependence on the program's medication. Needless to say they have a lot of eluding to do, and Edward Norton plays the tracker du jour. I can tell Norton is trying to show his teeth with the role, but there's only so much he can do with a character that does little more than bark orders at subordinates for the whole movie.
There a handful of noteworthy scenes. The most disturbing is slow-paced mass shooting where the brainwashed killer doesn't concern himself with the element of surprise. The most engaging is an interrogation of Weisz's scientist by a purported grief counselor (psychologist humor is always welcome with me). And it should come as no surprise that the most exciting part of the movie is a motorcycle chase. The "Bourne" series is known for its vehicular chase sequences, and this is one area where "Legacy" does the franchise proud.
"The Bourne Legacy" is a pathetic attempt to piggyback on a series that was just fine as a trilogy. Matt Damon's Bourne was drained of all personality thanks to his assassin training and then he suffered amnesia and forgot what his personality even was. Yet somehow he still had more charisma than Renner's Aaron Cross. It's bad enough that this film is lousy on its own, but the real shame is that it tarnishes a franchise that up to this point had been highly enjoyable.
1 1/2 stars out of five
"The Bourne Legacy" is rated PG-13 for violence and action sequences. Its running time is 135 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.