"The Bourne Identity." "The Bourne Supremacy.""The Bourne Ultimatum."And now, "The Pointless, Confused and Then, For the Last Half-Hour, Exciting Bourne Sequel, After a Fashion," more commonly known as"The Bourne Legacy."
It's not really a prequel. Nor is it a sequel. I might be wrong, but I think it's a parallel line of a movie, running more or less alongside the action and shadowy doings of the previous "Bournes," this time with Jeremy Renner in the lead.
He does not play Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne isn't in "The Bourne Legacy." Renner plays Aaron Cross, another one of the highly trained killers in a related supersecret U.S. government program. Because the here-unseen Bourne refuses to be killed by the Central Intelligence Agency, everything's in disarray for the program known as Outcome.
"The Bourne Legacy" pits Cross against his own set of would-be assailants and sends him running, running, running alongside a research scientist played by Rachel Weisz, also targeted for early retirement by assassination.
The second and third "Bourne" pictures, directed with ferocious skill and a refreshingly adult brand of moral complication by Paul Greengrass, told simple stories simply in narrative terms, through largely nonverbal means. Tony Gilroy served as primary screenwriter on the trilogy — or as Universal Pictures puts it in its "Bourne Legacy" materials, the "narrative architect" — and here he takes over as director. (The script was co-written by his brother, Dan Gilroy.)
The results invert the "Bourne" formula. The new movie is visually more conventional. But narratively it's a pretzel, half-baked. The first hour makes a full investment in Cross' isolated existence difficult, because Gilroy risks a considerable amount of what's-happening-exactly? vexation. He's an interesting writer, no question: His caper film "Duplicity," which I enjoyed, tanked largely because of its looping flashbacks and nutty obfuscations, starting with the brawl on the tarmac between two supporting players. Even Gilroy's well-regarded script for"Michael Clayton"was fancier structurally than needed. "The Bourne Legacy" is Gilroy's revenge; it's all corkscrews, and the script periodically stops dead to explain itself, or deliver the dreaded expositional back story, before cranking up the action again.
And then, a little past the nick of time, it gets pretty good. When the story zips to Manila, the resulting foot chases, vehicular chases and whatnot take center stage (especially the whatnot), and nobody says anything worth hearing for a while, and that's just the way international action audiences prefer their action.
Some choice espionage scowlers from the previous "Bourne" films sidle into frame for brief cameos, among them Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn. New on board: Edward Norton, as the ambivalent program overseer, and Stacy Keach as an authority figure who's seen it all and doesn't want anybody to see or question anything.
Renner looks a little flummoxed by having to take over this weird addendum to the "Bourne" trilogy made famous by Matt Damon. Without Greengrass' knack for staging and framing complicated sequences on the brink of pure chaos, as well as Greengrass' sly sociopolitical critique and near-abstract sense of plotting, "The Bourne Legacy" offers only garden-variety spy games, though they have the modest virtue of getting less obtuse as they lurch forward.
"We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary," Norton says of his Outcome grads at one point. The film itself is less necessary.
'The Bourne Legacy' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense action sequences)
Running time: 2:15