When star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass passed on a fourth installment of the Bourne series of kinetic thrillers based on Robert Ludlum's novels, Universal's decision seemed smartly counter-intuitive: shift the series onto a new hero borne (ahem) from a similar secret programme, played by a new actor, and hand over the reins to Tony Gilroy, who scripted all three previous films and is a fine director in his own right (Michael Clayton, Duplicity).

     Yet, The Bourne Legacy does not yield the expected results. Mr. Gilroy, who famously disparaged the angle Mr. Greengrass took on his final script for The Bourne Supremacy and dropped out of The Bourne Ultimatum after an initial draft, fails to deliver what he said would do differently with the series. Stunningly, he does so despite writing in a series of tantalising clues and plotting an intriguing conspiracy theory in dealing with the case of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the only surviving operative of an experimental programme called Outcome after the Pentagon shuts it down with extreme prejudice once Jason Bourne comes to New York City.

     The overlapping of The Bourne Legacy with the events taking place in The Bourne Ultimatum is a nice twist, as are the brief walk-ons of actors from previous movies (save for Mr. Damon), the references to classic "paranoid thrillers" such as Three Days of the Condor, and the implications of the genetic trials being done on Outcome, hinting at a poignancy straight out of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon. But Mr. Gilroy eventually leaves such hints undeveloped to focus on the action sequences, staged with less punch and in a much more workmanlike way than in previous episodes, and climaxing in an overdrawn "thrilla in Manila" chase that goes on for so long it threatens to tip the whole film into blockbuster parody territory. What's even more disappointing is that the director calls in an undoubtedly talented cast while giving them effectively little or nothing to do: Mr. Renner's dangerous edge is almost entirely left out, Rachel Weisz has one great scene and is then reduced to standard lab chick filler, and an actor as fine as Edward Norton is entirely wasted in an almost guest star role.

     Halfway through it all becomes quite clear that Mr. Gilroy is bringing the series back from their combination of kinetic action and script smarts into a more classic blockbuster thriller territory - effectively diluting its sole claim to standing out among current Hollywood major studio productions.

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris, Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn

Director: Tony Gilroy
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, from a story by Tony Gilroy
Cinematography: Robert Elswit (colour, processing by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen)
Music: James Newton Howard
Designer: Kevin Thompson
Costumes: Shay Cunliffe
Editor: John Gilroy
Producers: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Jeffrey M. Weiner, Ben Smith (Universal Pictures and The Kennedy/Marshall Company in association with Relativity Media, Captivate Entertainment and Dentsu)
USA/Japan, 2012, 135 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), August 17th 2012.


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