There’s not much to learn about Aaron Cross, the biologically enhanced special agent at the center of “The Bourne Legacy.” As played by Jeremy Renner, he’s alternately driven and distracted, a weapon that looks like a person yet lacks anything resembling a personality.
Like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, Cross is essentially a blank, albeit one with very good reflexes. But where his predecessor’s primary goal was to reclaim his own identity, Cross aims only to keep popping the pills that transformed him into a super agent, lest he revert into his old dim self.
Mr. Renner projects an erratic magnetism that helps hold “Legacy” together, but even so his turn suffers relative to Mr. Damon‘s. But don’t blame Mr. Renner for the unfavorable comparison: He was Bourne this way.
The movie lives in the shadow of the franchise’s former protagonist: Jason Bourne haunts the title, and the film’s sideshow of a story, which takes place more or less contemporaneously with the series’ third entry, “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Too often the film seems uncertain what to do without its old star and the loss of life and love that drove him.
Yet it’s not Mr. Damon’s character who is most missed in writer-director Tony Gilroy’s attempt to continue the franchise without its title character. No, the biggest void is the one left by Paul Greengrass, who directed the series’ second and third installments and gave the series its conspiratorial vibe and ballistic thrills. Those entries were built around elaborate action sequences shot in a frantic style that might best be described as seizure-cam, and they left you breathless and rattled.
Mr. Gilroy apes the series’ signature whip-spin camera moves and blenderized editing superficially, but he cannot manage the dazzlingly choreographed sensory assaults that made Mr. Greengrass’ best sequences stand out.
This is not to say that Mr. Gilroy, who contributed to the screenplays of all three previous Bourne films, has nothing to offer. He puts together a handful of perfectly competent action sequences, including a zippy chase through the crowded streets of Seoul. He’s also somewhat more willing to indulge in brief moments of wordless quiet than Mr. Greengrass, who often seemed terrified by the prospect of stillness or silence.
For the most part, though, “The Bourne Legacy” follows a familiar formula established by the previous films: There’s a rogue agent (Mr. Renner) and a girl (Rachel Weisz). They end up on the run from a crew of slick, sleazy bureaucrats (including Edward Norton and Stacy Keach) armed with heavy-duty surveillance equipment. The dialogue is dominated by tough talk and terse technobabble, the plot punctuated by swift, kicky violence.
As action movies go, it’s no revelation, but it works well enough on its own terms. Indeed, its biggest problem may be the way it suffers in comparison to the rest of the franchise. The title character is gone; did the movie really need to be presented as his legacy? If only it had been truly Bourne free.
TITLE: “The Bourne Legacy”
RATING: PG-13 for kicky spy violence
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes