The climactic chase scene in “The Bourne Legacy,” the fourth installment in the Bourne franchise and the first without Matt Damon, is a blast of careening action choreography. Shot on the narrow, traffic-choked, people-clogged streets of Manila, it’s a race with the devil through the bustle of the city, a ballet of fight and flight in the best Bourne tradition.
It’s too bad then that much of what precedes it isn’t nearly as compelling.
Needlessly complex and circuitous, the talky “Bourne Legacy” feels too much like a set-up for future films as opposed to a self-contained story that works on its own. It takes forever to introduce a crowd of characters and a globe’s worth of locations. (Fans of the late novelist and Bourne creator Robert Ludlum should note that “The Bourne Legacy” is not at all based on Eric Van Lustbader’s novel of the same name, which is part of the Bourne book series.)
But, once “The Bourne Legacy” does get going, man, what a ride.
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Jeremy Renner is Aaron Cross who, like Damon’s Jason Bourne, is a rogue agent with the entire world of intelligence on him like cling wrap. They want to eliminate him and all those like him.
Smartly, director Tony Gilroy — who wrote the screenplays for the previous Bourne movies and co-wrote this one with brother Dan Gilroy — intersects “Legacy” with the last film, “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Cross’ misadventures begin just as Bourne arrives in New York (though we only see pictures of Damon’s character, he never makes an appearance).
To take down the government operatives out to kill him, Cross needs to get to Manila — exactly why would take too long to explain — and to do that, he needs the help of a friendly if fearful scientist, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), with whom he has crossed paths before. That’s when “The Bourne Legacy” slams on the accelerator and doesn’t look back.
Obviously, Gilroy wants to make this franchise his own — Paul Greengrass directed “Bourne Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” Doug Liman helmed “Bourne Identity” — and that may be one reason for backing away from wall-to-wall action. His previous films, “Michael Clayton” and “Duplicity,” certainly aimed to find tension in conversation but that approach is less successful here.
Renner has a commanding presence and certainly meets all the physical requirements needed to pull off the part, but he lacks that spark that made Damon so identifiably Bourne. Weisz holds her own as a woman whose world suddenly morphs from the cerebral to the physical. Ed Norton, as the g-man in charge of the hit on Cross, doesn’t have much to do but bark orders.
Now that the plot groundwork has been laid with “The Bourne Legacy,” maybe the next film can pick up where this one leaves off and keep our heroes running fast and hard. After all, there are a lot more streets out there just waiting to be destroyed.