‘Bourne’ again: Renner makes respectable bid for action stardom in ‘The Bourne Legacy’ (2012) (Movie review)

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rom Jan. 6-14, we’re looking back at the five films of the “Bourne” series, so prepare to have your memory refreshed. Next up is the fourth film, “The Bourne Legacy” (2012):

Jeremy Renner is like an excellent baseball utility player, the last of the Avengers to get a solo project (TV’s “Hawkeye”), held off by the ageless Tom Cruise for “Mission: Impossible” lead status, and playing the “other” Project Personnel member to Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. When given a starting assignment in “The Bourne Legacy,” though, Renner acquits himself well. His Aaron Cross pairs nicely with Rachel Weisz’s Dr. Marta Shearing as they globe-trot to escape their government bosses in a fourth entry that’s as expensive and professional as the others despite lacking Damon.

Granted, all of the “Bourne” plots are similar, but in this fourth installment, writer-director Tony Gilroy (with Dan Gilroy co-writing) really drives home the borderline ridiculousness of the saga. Here, Aaron has no terrorist-fighting mission at all – he acquires a maguffin at the bottom of an Alaskan river in the opening segment, but only for the sake of doing something. The plot is all about him being on the run from his own bosses.

In “Suicide Squad,” Amanda Waller murders her entire support staff to cover up a secret mission, and people made fun of that plot point, but at least it was a silly superhero comedy. “Legacy” treads toward similar ground as the movers and shakers behind the US government’s black-funded Outcome are close to being exposed by a British journalist. So they murder the journalist and then move to kill their Project Personnel (among them Cross) and their handlers (among them Shearing).

If you get a government job, “Legacy” essentially advises, get it in writing that you’re in the group that gets to do the killing, not in the “to be killed” group. This movie could be a satire except that satire requires intent; nonetheless, its silliness is almost a perk. A movie like this could be confusing, or it could pile on layers of plot in an attempt to look smart. But instead it’s simply a case of government agents killing other government agents, and there’s an appealing purity to this portrayal of wastefulness – in terms of both money and lives.

If you get a government job, “Legacy” essentially advises, get it in writing that you’re in the group that gets to do the killing, not in the “to be killed” group.

And it’s also a hilarious premise. Consider that the government, in order to cover it up, needs to use secret ops to kill the secret-ops members who are about to be exposed. What if these secret-ops killers were also in danger of exposure? Would a third secret-ops group take out the second secret-ops group?

As goofy as the plot is, “Legacy” – like all the “Bournes” – is never for a moment boring. I suspect it might be cheating, but I fell for it. The music is low-key tense, the actors are serious (Edward Norton and Stacy Keach head the “track and kill Cross” boardroom team), and we’re bombarded with striking locales from Alaska to Manila. Cross climbs mountains, parkours up buildings, runs across rooftops and through alleys and leads an assassin on a motorcycle pursuit. At one point he slides down three stories between two closely positioned walls in crowded Manila to strike an enemy from above. What’s not to like?

Shearing’s explanations of how she can “lock in” Aaron’s enhancements – which were previously achieved via a daily regimen of blue and green pills (which he has lost in the mountains) – will probably induce rolling-on-the-floor laughter from a scientist watching this movie. But Weisz speaks in sober enough fashion that I buy it – not in the real world, but in the world of this action movie.

As for that other kind of chemistry, Renner and Weisz have it. They’re a lighter version of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor. There’s no time for romance (at least not until after the movie’s narrative) when you’re barely a step ahead of evil but smart people in suits, with an unlimited tech support staff (whom they may or may not kill, Waller-style, after the mission).

“Legacy” is nothing we haven’t seen before – Aaron’s backstory of joining the Project Personnel is peppered into the final act, the same as Jason’s story in “The Bourne Identity” – but have the “Bourne” films ever truly been about plotting? I think they’ve always made stunt-driven action and a charming hero their target goals, and they again achieve it.

Commercially, Renner might’ve been better off starring in his own series, as he ends up suffering the same fate as Doggett and Reyes when they took over for Mulder and Scully. There is more than one Project Personnel (Shearing says there were nine at first, but now six), but the public only has room for one in its hearts: Jason Bourne. Critically speaking, though, Renner is a legit A-list action lead; at least he gets to show it this one time.

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