Like much of its action-packed ilk, The Bourne Legacy strains credulity at times. For a movie franchise based on engineered spies, this might be a bit obvious.
However, much of the greatness in the original Bourne Trilogy that starred Matt Damon was rooted in the utter reality of such a dystopian vision. Unlike this latest installment, the trilogy was able to blend the frightening aspect of genetically altered operatives with believable action and gut-wrenching tension. In short, they were true thrill rides that engaged mentally and viscerally.
The Bourne Legacy wants to find that sweet spot, but fails. Not in any horrendous way, mind you. The movie is, for all its shortcomings, still a notch above most action-oriented summer flicks.
It stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, an agent in Operation Outcome — an improved incarnation of the genetically engineered agents involved in Operation Treadstone. As things fall apart for Treadstone & Operation Blackbriar, the decision is made to pull the plug on Operation Outcome and terminate all participants — from the agents themselves to the lead scientists behind the projects. Thus, the fate of Cross is tossed together with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).
The man + woman against the evil government plot line should sound familiar. Unlike the original trilogy, however, Legacy eschews the frenetic (and at times nauseating) reality in favor of a smoother cinematic vision. This softening is actually a pleasant surprise and is compounded nicely by illustrating the emotional price of engineered improvements.
With this stroke of pathos, Legacy is also able to humanize the operatives even as the science behind the physical and mental upgrades muddles the very definition of their humanity. In essence, the filmmakers make them emotionally tangible beings even as the functioning reality of their prescience is pushed beyond reach.
These sympathetic moves, however, are negated by the sheer absurdity of the action.
It's one thing to believe that these secret agents are in effect super human. Tempering disbelief as they leap across unfathomably large crevasses or scale walls is a breeze. The physics behind such maneuvers are obvious and measurable. Jumping from a moving vehicle onto the back of a motorcycle, throwing the driver off the bike, and continuing your chase with nary a shiver from the handlebars? Pure Fonzarelli.
Furthering the problems for Legacy is the relationship, such as it is, between Shearing and Cross. While the creators wisely downplayed any sort of overt amorousness, the on-screen chemistry was in short supply.
Renner does his best, cracking jokes and displaying a sense of levity rarely witnessed in Matt Damon's more robotic turn as Jason Bourne, but nothing transcendent between the pair ever materializes. Instead, the driving action dissipates into nothingness and we're left to wonder what the fuss was about in the first place.