Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz. Written by Tony and Dan Gilroy. Directed by Tony Gilroy. 14A. 125 min. Opens Aug. 10.
There’s a rich history of creating new works that give starring roles to characters who’d had minor parts (or none at all) in an already famous one. Sure, it can seem a bit exploitative; but if it worked for Tom Stoppard’s Hamlet spin-off, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, it can certainly work for the film franchise built around Jason Bourne. The Bourne character has already had a very different life on screen than he did in Robert Ludlum’s original novels, so what’s so heretical about replacing him with an entirely new character for The Bourne Legacy?
Any such misgivings should be forgotten by viewers of this largely effective thriller, which stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a chemically enhanced agent who is targeted by his own superiors when his division is shut down due to events in The Bourne Ultimatum. Rachel Weisz plays a scientist who is also threatened and who leads Cross to the place that holds the secrets behind his competitive edge.
Co-writer and director Tony Gilroy makes some canny enhancements to the existing formula of high-octane action and black-ops chicanery in a shadowy world transformed by post-9/11 priorities and bleeding-edge technology. As such, The Bourne Legacy may actually be more politically pointed than its predecessors. Not only does the new film flaunt the usual deep-seated distrust of the U.S. espionage services—embodied here by Edward Norton’s coolly efficient clean-up man—it touches on the evils of corporate outsourcing and the complicity of so many Americans in questionable goings-on worldwide.
That said, any hidden agenda the movie may have is put aside to make room for the slam-bang finale, an exhilarating motorcycle chase through Manila that pushes the series into the more fantastical style of a Bond extravaganza, but still satisfies as over-adrenalized mayhem. Matt Damon must be bummed about missing out.