Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, Scott Glenn
Running Time: 135 minutes
The wildly successful “Bourne” movies tend to have certain ingredients. There is some form of identity crisis, usually due to memory loss. In addition, the franchise features exotic, rivetingly realistic fight scenes utilizing the Israeli military’s Krav Maga and the Filipino stick-fighting arts of Kali, Arnis, and Escrima. They also include “buildering” (climbing buildings), rooftop escapes from fellow CIA assassins, and idyllic tropical endings.
“The Bourne Identity,” the first movie of the “Bourne” series, was so engrossing that it started a trend. Every action film since seems to have been influenced by it. No less so the fourth installment in this hit franchise, “The Bourne Legacy.”
Although Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne is not in the movie, “Legacy” is easily the best action-thriller of the summer.
Unlike Jason Bourne, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”) is not an assassin of the CIA’s Treadstone program, but an Outcome operator, belonging to the Department of Defense. Outcome agents are used for even more dangerous, deep-cover assignments than Treadstone.
The two programs share the highly unethical, top-secret genetic and chemical tampering of a pharmaceutical behemoth, but Outcome’s tampering produces a more lethal operator—sort of like the T2 Terminator.
When Jason Bourne’s off-the-reservation story comes to light, the hidden existence of Outcome also becomes vulnerable. Someone under a rock somewhere can’t have that, of course.
The omniscient eye of the camera turns over that rock for us, exposing one Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton). He’s the one responsible for originally building all these black-operations programs. He’s feeling the sword of Damocles hanging over Outcome’s existence; the science is in danger of getting on CNN. As the CIA fails to cover up Bourne, Byer makes the decision to raze Outcome to ground, including everyone involved—agents, doctors, lab technicians, and all.
The “Doh!” factor is that Outcome agents, while having more cutting-edge abilities than their Treadstone predecessors, are also harder to control. Having one of these human pit bulls become disgruntled and escape its kennel (another “Bourne” ingredient) means becoming immediately at risk of getting severely bitten in the proverbial backside.
Set largely in Alaska, there are aspects of the movie “The Grey.” Timber wolves abound, but unlike that film, the wolves get more than they bargained for with a steroidal assassin.
There’s an encounter with an unfriendly agent banished to an outpost in the mountains for a romantic transgression, a Predator drone on snow pontoons, and lots of intrigue, second-guessing, and mind games. We experience how devastating a drone strike really is. There’s an especially tense massacre in a chemical lab.
When “Legacy” finally cuts to the chase—it’s one heck of a chase.
It could be argued that it was Matt Damon’s humble everyman persona and no-nonsense sensibility that made the “Bourne” series so believable, and therefore riveting. Damon specializes in everyday men who are somewhat bland on the surface yet genius-level brilliant underneath. That’s who he is in real life—a good-looking but regular Joe who happened to attend Harvard.
Jeremy Renner’s stock-in-trade is an even more regular-looking guy who radiates a powerful undercurrent of danger. Given the new storyline, Renner is a perfect casting replacement for Damon.
What also made the first Bourne movie so compelling was the redemption aspect. Bourne’s loss of memory allowed a different consciousness to step in, one that appeared to still have an unsullied conscience, and which recoiled in disgust upon discovering his earlier existence as a trained assassin.
Renner’s Aaron Cross knows exactly who he is and what he does for a living. When the “chems” in his system wear off, he may have a change of heart. But that’s another movie. For now, he’s just dangerous—and highly watchable.
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