Silver Screen: The Bourne Legacy ***
Another season of remakes and reboots lumbers on, so much like last summer-- does that make summer 2012 a remake of summer 2011? August is the month when the more misbegotten movies creep into theaters in the bigger blockbusters' wakes, and two of the worst ideas were the Bourne-less Bourne sequel and an action-movie remake for which nobody was asking.
For all its faults, The Bourne Legacy has a lot going for it. The franchise reboot is helmed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the script for all three of the Matt Damon-starring originals. It's Gilroy's first time directing a Bourne installment, but his first two features were the sharp legal thriller Michael Clayton and the saucy espionage comedy Duplicity. And while Damon is gone, his image repeatedly flashed onscreen and his character's name spoken in the wistful tones of a girlfriend who has just been dumped by Matt Damon, he's replaced by the more-than-capable Jeremy Renner, who's been the bruiser sidekick in a slew of movies including The Town, The Avengers, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Now he finally gets top billing.
An action movie written and directed by Gilroy and starring Renner sounds like a safe bet, but it's hobbled out of the gate by the forced affiliation with the earlier films despite having a plot that's at best tangentially related. Renner, as government-trained killer Aaron Cross, doesn't so much actualize the Bourne legacy as he bears it like the dead weight of a Siamese twin who has stopped breathing. The constant hushed-tone talk about Damon's character turns Renner's potentially interesting Cross into the Jan Brady of action-movie heroes. (It's always Jason, Jason, Jason!)
We meet Cross at a brutal, remote training facility for participants in a secret government program called Outcome. He battles the elements and, unfortunately, wolves on a deadly scavenger hunt that leads him to a rendezvous with a fellow Outcome agent. Aaron and his colleagues have had both their physical and mental capabilities altered by a series of injections and pills.
The public scandal that results from Bourne's actions in the earlier films prompts the leading intelligence agency to scrap the Outcome program altogether, which, as inevitably happens in action movies, means systematically murdering all of the participants. Aaron narrowly escapes and tracks down one of the program's leading scientists, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who is on the run from the same group of killers. Together they must escape the grasp of the American intelligence agencies while finding a way to keep Aaron supplied with the medication that turns him into a literal superspy.
The plot isn't terribly inspired-- the same basic premise was put to much better use just a couple years ago in Joe Wright's Hanna, but it still could potentially carry a film. It feels increasingly like a superhero movie as Aaron puts his genetic enhancements to the test, and especially when a similarly souped-up supervillain, a generic baddie who arrives too late in the game and seems more like someone who should be chasing Renner in The Avengers than here, shows up. The last thing the summer needed was more superhero movies, yet The Bourne Legacy goes that direction, shedding whatever realism the series cultivated although without concurrently amping up the stunts and setpieces.
The vestigial traces of the Bourne series are mostly represented by the bad guys, a series of bureaucrats whose clipped speech consists mostly of acronyms and exposition. I can't honestly say I recall exactly what positions Ed Norton, Stacy Keach, and Scott Glenn held, just that they all wore suits and were bad. All the spy-movie stuff is window dressing on action sequences that mostly lack the verve of Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass's hyperkinetic fights and chases.
The Bourne Legacy is competently crafted and professionally executed, but it's hard to imagine it would have gotten made without the Bourne affiliation, yet it seems to lack any significant connection to that series. Chalk this one up as The Bourne Redundancy.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.