I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the fourth installment of the Bourne series. Why? The same old reasons any fan of the trilogy would likely list — No Damon, no Greengrass and a plotline that seemed like a direct, unimaginative rip-off of the first three films. In other words, the project had all the tell-tale signs of a Hollywood studio struggling to milk the last few dimes out of a franchise that didn’t really need any more screen time. But as it so happens, “The Bourne Legacy,” although flawed, isn’t a complete failure.

The Bourne Legacy

At Quality 16 and Rave

There’s no point dancing around the most obvious mistake here — the storyline centers on the painfully dull premise that “there was never just one” super-spy. It’s a cheap way to start off a reboot and the blandness behind it all never gives the script an opportunity to grab the audience. Instead, writer and director Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) leaves us thinking ‘No shit. Would the United States of America really put all their money behind one program?’

Of course not. But we are told to take this as some kind of unprecedented revelation. The product of this revelation is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, “The Avengers”). Cross is a covert agent for Outcome, a government-funded agency with many of the same directives as Treadstone, the infamous program that produced Jason Bourne.

Interestingly, Gilroy chose to set the film along a timeline running parallel to the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Most of the action takes place around the time Jason Bourne re-enters the country and helps Pamela Landy expose the CIA’s role in the illicit activities of the Treadstone Initiative. Consequently, the U.S. government is forced to do damage control to protect many of the other beta stage training procedures still on the drawing board. Surprise, surprise — the first step of said “damage control” involves terminating Outcome along with all of its agents. And thus, the manhunt begins.

At its best, the action in the film is intelligent if not thrilling. Rather than Greengrass’s shaky, seizure-inducing camera work, Gilroy opts for a more straight-laced approach to the fight sequences. For most of the movie, the gambit works. The stunts are well orchestrated and paced beautifully until we wind down towards the tail end of the film, which involves a drawn out motorcycle chase that fizzles away into an overwhelmingly unsatisfying conclusion.

The writing is similarly impressive yet hollow — missing the nuanced brilliance of the predecessors. The film manages to keep us engaged, but the excitement and unpredictability from the original trilogy is nowhere to be found.

A bonus is the easy charisma behind Renner’s acting. Yes, that magnetic vulnerability Matt Damon was able to create in Jason Bourne is not present in this film. But Renner remarkably manages to avoid Damon’s shadow by somehow making us feel sorry for his character. As a result, we end up caring about Aaron Cross and this entire unfortunate mess he finds himself in. Is it the same way we felt about Bourne? No. But when all’s said and done, you can only expect so much.

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