'The Bourne Legacy' Review: Franchise Extension Lacks Purpose, Passion

'The Bourne Legacy' Review: Franchise Extension Lacks Purpose, Passion

Fading franchises never die. They just get a facelift and return good as new.

After sitting through “The Bourne Legacy,” Hollywood’s attempt to keep Matt Damon adventure series afloat, it’s clear some franchises deserve a rest, not Botox.

“Legacy” isn’t a disaster, nor is the main casting switcheroo a mistake. Jeremy Renner is about as fitting a choice as any able-bodied actor to grab the “Bourne” baton from Damon.The Bond film series offers enough creative wiggle room for new actors and bold approaches. “The Bourne Legacy” lacks that durability.

It’s another tale of government ineptness and outright cruelty, and our hero is essentially running for nearly two hours.Director Tony Gilroy, who penned the first three “Bourne” installments, shakes the camera far less than his predecessors. The action is still blunt and personal befitting Damon’s physical legacy. The story and characters aren’t so bold – or invigorating.

“Legacy” tells us Damon’s Jason Bourne wasn’t the only manufactured super spy who went off the grid. We first meet Aaron Cross (Renner) pulling off some nifty survivalist stunts in Alaska. We soon learn the government is erasing all of its existing superspy mistakes, a narrative thread tying the film to the previous installment.

That means Aaron is marked for extinction, but killing a “Bourne” type isn’t as easy as shooting a missile at an unsuspecting Alaskan shack.Meanwhile, a scientist who helped create the viruses which made Aaron and Jason more than mere soldiers of fortune finds herself in danger from the very same government forces hoping to eradicate the various “Bourne” operatives.

Consider the franchise dots connected, and without the kind of logically mangled storytelling that would get in the way of the fun.

The frazzled scientist (Rachel Weisz) ends up teaming with Aaron, and the two must somehow avoid becoming the latest mistake wiped clean by government problem solvers.

Damon’s Bourne represented an atypical hero, one without a firm identity or wisecracking persona. He was all business, and the business just so happened to be staying one step ahead of death.Aaron is similarly blank. Renner supplies the muscle and innate intelligence, but the character remains inscrutable. Blame a generic script which trots out conspiratorial lines as if generated by an out-of-date screenwriting program.

Franchise regulars including Albert Finney, David Straithairn and Joan Allen appear briefly to keep the connective tissue vibrant, but you wish the story afforded them more than blink and you miss ’em parts. 

It takes some time before a “Bourne”-worthy action sequence appears, but Gilroy gives it the necessary pain and panache to let us know Renner is a worthy successor. It’s the lulls between those set pieces which give us pause. There’s little chemistry between Renner and Weisz, and the introduction of a foil for Aaron late in the game smacks of the filmmakers shrugging their shoulders mid-production and wondering, “well, what should we do for the final 20 minutes?”

“The Bourne Legacy” is an understandable attempt to keep a profitable franchise afloat. That hardly means the effort is justified.

Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies