As the title of the fourth movie in a perhaps never-ending series, The Bourne Legacy is almost too perfect. Variations on what happened to Jason Bourne in the first three entries can befall new characters indefinitely. If this prospect sounds a little tiresome — well, that's what quick cuts and superhuman stunts are for.
The Bourne Legacy is also the title of a novel by Eric Van Lustbader, who continued Bourne creator Robert Ludlum's, uh, legacy. But the Bourne movies long ago diverged from those authors' storyline, and now they've jettisoned the character as well. This installment centers on Aaron Cross, played by The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner.
Co-writer/director Tony Gilroy, who's had a hand in writing the previous three films in the franchise, cleverly overlaps the events of this chapter with those of The Bourne Ultimatum. It's because Jason Bourne has become uncontrollable that the powers that be — led by Edward Norton's cold-blooded bureaucrat, Eric Byer — decide to shut down a different super-soldier program, code name "Outcome." That, of course, means killing everybody in the operation and anybody who knows about it, plus some innocent bystanders, just to show how merciless American clandestine services are. The Bourne Legacy is fantasy of U.S. government ruthlessness worthy of the Tea Party Film Club.
Unfortunately for Byer, one Outcome operative declines to die: Cross, who's introduced doing the CIA's version of Outward Bound in Alaska. When not dodging missiles, he tangles with what must be the same pack of wolves who menaced Liam Neeson in the ridiculous The Grey earlier this year. "Wolves don't track people," Cross correctly notes, but he (and the movie) don't follow up on that insight. He's too busy looking for his "reds."
Yes, Cross has been chemically altered and genetically enhanced. Outcome went beyond the previous programs, Treadstone and Blackbriar, which merely indulged in physical training and behavior modification. Now that Outcome has become plausibly deniable, Cross fears, he'll lose the super-stuff fed to him by such medical researchers as Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). This is one lab rat who doesn't want the experiment to stop.
The middle part of the movie is set in the D.C. area, where Cross rescues Shearing from still more homicidal government agents. She tells him that he can still be an Übermensch without his meds, but he'll have to get a shot of a substance that's way outside the Beltway. So the duo head to Manila, one of those teeming Asian cities that's great for chase scenes.
It's in the Philippines that Gilroy begins to emulate Paul Greengrass, who directed the two previous Bourne films with frantic pans and jittery edits. Overall, though, The Bourne Legacy is more staid and less Dramamine-demanding than Greengrass' episodes.
Also in Asia is yet another superagent, the product of yet another top-secret program. This guy is supposed to be Cross' great nemesis, but their showdown seems rushed. Even at more than two hours, the movie doesn't really have time to develop the story of one more clandestine hyperwarrior operation.
The new movie includes cameos by such Bourne veterans as Joan Allen, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn and David Strathairn. (But not Matt Damon, who has publicly dissed Gilroy.) Yet this is basically the tale of a loner, even if Cross eventually does acquire a helpmate/love interest/personal physician. Call it The Bourne Franchise: Ghost Protocol — a fever dream of amok individualism as much as stoic brutality.