Given that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass decided to bid adieu to the massively successful Bourne franchise after ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’, the question on everyone’s lips was: ‘Could the espionage series continue?’.
Well, the money men said yes, and so here we have ‘The Bourne Legacy’, directed by Tony Gilroy (who wrote the three previous Bourne films and co-wrote this with his brother Dan).
Damon has been replaced by Jeremy Renner, the two-time Oscar nominee for ‘The Hurt Locker’ and ‘The Town’, in the lead role.
Only he doesn’t play Jason Bourne – as Renner has been very keen to stress from the moment his name was attached, despite the rest of the script being shrouded in secrecy.
Renner plays super-soldier/spy Aaron Cross, who unlike Bourne is fully aware of who he is and what’s required of him.
We meet him as he embarks on a solo training mission in the snowy Alaskan wilderness and it’s plain to see Cross can shoot, jump and climb as good as Bourne.
In addition, this agent can brave freezing waters bare-chested and fight wolves with his bare hands.
But to be able to do this he has to pop a couple of pills a day, one to enhance his brain, and another his brawn.
In an inspired move, the beginning of the film overlaps with the final chapter of ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ and the moment Bourne goes public about the government’s intelligence programmes.
At this point, Cross’s own clandestine organisation, known as Outcome, is deemed ’infected’ and everybody associated with it has to be extinguished.
Most of them successfully are, besides Cross and Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a genetic scientist who was involved with the development of the drugs.
With Cross requiring more ’meds’ and Shearing needing his help to stay alive, the pair embark on a global adventure in an attempt to outrun the bad guys.
All the while, the audience becomes privy to the fact Bourne’s world was only a small part of a much larger, darker universe.
At its helm is Col Eric Byer (Edward Norton), the ethically questionable man in charge of the entire black ops organisation.
Despite little back story, Renner gives a strong performance and is a competent, if less charismatic, successor to Damon.
But unfortunately there’s little chemistry between him and his leading lady, to the point that you’re left feeling indifferent as to whether they make it to the credits.
Norton is reassuringly confident in a complex role and that’s despite being responsible for much of the film’s exposition in dialogue so dense and quickly-fired, it will take numerous viewings to fully appreciate what on earth’s going on.
The film retains the sharp editing, impressive stunts and general all-round hoopla that we’ve come to expect from the franchise, but at times you find your mind wandering.
There’s a sense of having seen it all before – and seen it done better.
Even the piece de resistance of stunts, a motorcycle chase sequence through the thrumming streets of Manila, is frankly a tad dull, especially as it lasts about 15 minutes too long.
What follows feels like an ’add-on’ scene that, as picturesque as it is, feels unnecessary and flat. The only apparent purpose it serves is to set up a sequel.
Whether that happens will depend on the audience and if they want to invest anymore because while ‘The Bourne Legacy’ may look and feel familiar, it’s that very familiarity which might breed contempt.
Star Rating: 2½