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The Bourne Legacy features some decent action and some good drama, but it also suffers from the dreaded “so what?” syndrome.

Bourne Again

Jeremy Renner is Aaron Cross
Jeremy Renner is Aaron Cross

This latest installment in the Bourne series features a new protagonist. Jason Bourne, the titular lead of the previous three films starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass, is on the lam and allegedly shooting his antagonists in New York City.

His actions have forced the U.S. government’s hand and Eric Byer (Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom) wants to shut down the entire program that gave birth to Bourne. That means killing off the other agents taking meds that empower them to become super spies and super-duper survivalists.

That’s the story, or something to that effect. There’s a lot of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy chatter among various government upper-ups, some of whom seem to live like mushrooms – they’re fed poop and kept in the dark. Project codenames and lingo are tossed around with aplomb along with conflicting agendas and seemingly contradictory ambitions from Eric himself.

It’s hard to get a handle on Eric’s motivations. Is he really a good guy or is he up to something? He muddies the waters with his own take on things when he says, “We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary.”

What is clear, though, is that all the wrong people in powerful places are really, really upset with Bourne’s off-screen antics.

That said, the situation itself is obvious enough.

One of those agents of Bourne’s ilk has been placed in Alaska on a training mission of sorts. He’s a survivalist extraordinaire named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker). Aaron beat the record for his mission by two whole days. Needless to say, killing a guy like that will prove to be mighty difficult.

Bourne to Run

While the star and director of the first three movies have moved on, Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter for the Damon trilogy, has continued his writing duties and also taken over the helm.

Gilroy’s a meticulous filmmaker who’s concocted finely-detailed and enjoyable cinematic works like Michael Clayton and Duplicity. The detail is well on display here, but the enjoyment factor is missing. It feels like Gilroy got bogged down in the minutest details, like giving full military titles and ranks to new characters, while trying to justify the continuation of the series, which now leaves Robert Ludlum’s original source material in the rear view mirror.

The premise is a fairly flimsy excuse to breathe new life into the Bourne series following Damon’s departure. Actually, The Bourne Legacy is arguably an inappropriate title. In regard to the story itself, the only real reason “Bourne” is in the title is to help people quickly identify the movie’s lineage and thereby sell some tickets. Sure, the basic concept isn’t as brazenly, egregiously ill-conceived as the awful sequel xXx: State of the Union several years ago, but the experience still comes up lacking.

A lot of the right pieces are in place. Renner and co-star Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) are plenty appealing, but there isn’t much reason to particularly care about them. That’s where the “so what?” factor comes into play. There’s an odd sense of detachment from the proceedings that is in part fueled by the penchant for heavy-handed dramatic tension among the antagonists that fails to catch hold as a real threat to the average Joe.

Bourne Fighter

Familiarity with the Greengrass/Damon flicks is helpful, but it’s not entirely necessary. Once the focus of the story finally centers on Aaron’s predicament, the action is easy enough to follow.

And some of that action is quite good, although not entirely exceptional in execution. Aaron’s one sharp cookie and he can quickly survey his surroundings, regardless of whether he’s in the great outdoors of Alaska, a ramshackle house in Maryland, or the teeming streets of Manila.

Renner makes the most of the character and the situation, proving he does have the chops and the likability for this type of material after rather ho-hum appearances in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. The problem he can’t overcome is Gilroy’s rather leaden pacing; somehow, even a motorcycle chase through greater downtown Manila feels mechanical until it comes to a brutally abrupt end that warrants a round of applause.

Another problem is that motorcycle chase was the by-product of a major contrivance, the introduction of yet another super-agent. This one’s known as LARX #3, but he might as well be called T-1000. He’s thrown into the mix as a quick fix to the Aaron Cross situation and, well, he doesn’t work out very well on a number of levels. He’s a throw-away character and he’s unconvincing as a real threat.

On the whole, The Bourne Legacy is the equivalent of the awkward frat boy who got in the fraternity simply because his dad was a member. This movie and that kid both got in by way of relationships rather than merits.