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‘Bourne,” Again

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The Bourne Legacy
Starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton

PSEUDO-ENTERTAINMENT: Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner take over ‘The Bourne Legacy.’ Courtesy photos

I like the Bourne movies. They’re nice, convenient espionage thrillers that are entertaining though utterly disposable. Plot is not exactly their strong suit. The three movies basically remain carbon copies of one another—each with a ridiculously simple premise: A trained assassin loses his memory. He’s the perfect killing machine, forced to try and outrun the shadowy government agency that relentlessly pursues him. A billion dollars later that’s about all I remember of them, which seems ironic in a movie series about a man with a memory lapse.

I remember the name of the shadowy government agency, Treadstone, but only because I thought it sounded like a brand of radial tires. I remember Matt Damon did a great job bringing a quiet intensity to Jason Bourne. In truth, he never really had a lot to do other than look angry and kick some ass. He epitomized the model of the Bourne series: Take a lot of top talent and have them run through a maze for two hours. Throw in some quality chase sequences and shaky-cam pugilism, and whammo! A billion-dollar trilogy.

Jeremy Renner (“The Avengers,” “Hurt Locker”) has been tasked with taking the reins for the spy series. He’s a lot more animated than Damon and actually is far more believable as a cold-blooded killer. There are moments where he fires a weapon and shoots someone in cold blood with an expressionless, calculated look on his face.

I also remember that every villain in the series is played by a really good actor. There is a lot of quality talent in extremely underwritten parts—the kind of acting that has to be performed in front of a row of computer monitors spewing out quasi-militaristic speak, only uttered by someone in a suit ordering nameless operatives to kill on their behalf. Chris Cooper, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and David Strathairn pepper the cast. The latest installment gives us the always-interesting Edward Norton in the role of “Scary Government Operative,” who is tasked with shutting down the entire Treadstone program based on the events of the “Bourne Ultimatum.” Right off the bat, I started having problems holding this premise together.

The general concept is that Jason Bourne shows up in Manhattan (as detailed in “Bourne Ultimatum”), and the shadowy government agents start to worry that their top-secret program of brainwashed super soldiers will become public knowledge. So, their plan is to eliminate the entire program, and murder anyone with knowledge of its existence plus every manipulated, brainwashed killing machine in their employ. So the plan is to tie up all your loose ends is to murder everyone. How on earth could that backfire? Oh wait, I know: trying to take down a bunch of highly trained commandos genetically engineered to efficiently kill! What about the agents who are assigned to murder the murderers? Will they also be killed? It’s kind of stupid, really.

I understand the basic idea of killing scientists and razing the entire project, but what possible benefit could someone derive from trying to eliminate the best agents onboard for no other reason than “fear of bad press”? Every problem the idiot agency in this film has is derived from trying to kill Aaron Cross (Renner). If they’d just let the guy wander off instead of trying to blow him up, he probably would have vanished.

I realize that same absence of logic exists in the earlier Bourne films. At the end of the first one, Jason Bourne is happy being a schlep on the sunny Mediterranean with his French girlfriend. That is until more agents show up to try and murder him, which sends him on a two-film journey of revenge that ultimately brings down the entire organization. Sure, government agencies are not always known for their out-of-the-box thinking. However, the whole enterprise begins to feel rather pointless.

And pointless is the compass which “The Bourne Legacy” uses to chart its destination. It’s a lot of pseudo-political intrigue mixed with pseudo-science for a movie that ends up being pseudo-entertaining. Renner is an excellent leading man, and his supporting cast, including the enchanting Rachel Weisz, chew a whole lot of scenery. But this movie feels less like a new entry to the Bourne plot and more like every other movie in the franchise, down to the action-packed climax pitting one government super agent against another. I can forgive redundancies as long as they’re presented in a way that feels new or engaging, but the “Bourne Legacy” feels like neither. It’s not a reboot or a remaining, but a retread.

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