It was back in 2002 when Matt Damon helped create one of the more thrilling franchises in movie history -- the Jason Bourne series. The story about a highly-trained operative who can't remember his past inspired two highly successful sequels, the last being "The Bourne Ultimatum" in 2007. A fourth movie was planned, but after director Paul Greengrass (who had done the second and third films) decided to pass, so too did Matt Damon.
Screenwriter Tony Gilroy was given the task of picking up the pieces and moving the franchise forward. As co-writer of the first three films, he came up with a screenplay (along with brother Dan) and was given the chance to direct. (This is Gilroy's third film after doing the excellent "Michael Clayton" with George Clooney and the far-less memorable "Duplicity" with Julia Roberts.) He also needed a new leading man and the choice was two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner from "The Hurt Locker" and "The Avengers."
The result is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Renner plays "Aaron Cross," another operative who is part of a genetic program to help develop better warriors and spies. We know he's tough -- when we first see him, he's diving underwater in a cold Alaska lake. His character is adapt at crossing the frozen wilderness and, unlike Jason Bourne, wants to talk a lot more to the people he runs into.
The Department of Defense program that Renner's character is a part of is loosely connected with the "Black Briar" and "Treadstone" endeavors featured in the previous films, and that's where the connection is made to Jason Bourne. Gilroy has cleverly added continuation of scenes from the last film that not only include characters we already know (ones played by David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney and others) but also introduces the new cast, including Edward Norton as the ex-military man whose job is to ruthlessly erase any sign (or person) connected to the program. Norton plays his part extremely well, toning down some of the more villainous mannerisms he's demonstrated in films like "The Italian Job" and "The Score."
Unlike the first three movies, the female lead has much more to do this time around. Oscar winner Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardner") plays a scientist for a big lab that is providing the drugs that are making Renner be all that he can be. The two have one scene together early in the film, but for an extended period after that, her character is solo, dealing with people at the lab and government officials. When she and Renner finally link up during a violent confrontation at her home, the movie finally moves into full throttle.
Up until that point, "The Bourne Legacy" moves along very slowly and there's a lot of talking. A lot. In fact, a worrisome amount. It's hardly the frantic pace that audiences saw in the previous films. Things start to look up with a big action scene in Alaska (really Alberta, Canada) and then after the two leads team up, we're in more familiar territory.
Like the other "Bourne" movies, the film does feature some exotic locations, including the Philippines. The action sequences are first rate. They include a rooftop chase scene that's exciting but very similar to the Tangier sequence in "The Bourne Ultimatum." There's also an extended motorcycle chase scene that, while impressive, seems overly long.
Renner is effective as the lead, differentiating himself from Damon by showing more humanity and by just having more lines to say. Weisz's character is a strong co-star who shows her character's shock at what's happening to her.
"The Bourne Legacy" definitely sets up a possibly sequel, with enough threads left hanging for audiences to want more. There's even an open door for Matt Damon's character to return. We'll have to see what the deal makers in Hollywood can do. But in the meantime, this latest edition to the "Bourne" series proves to be a solid if not spectacular continuation of the series.