Over the years, Hollywood has come up with a number of ways to continue and revive lucrative movie franchises. The James Bond films, for example, have swapped in new actors to play the lead role, while wholesale reboots like"Batman Begins"and"The Amazing Spider-Man"have started over from Square One.
"The Bourne Legacy,"the fourth film in the popular spy series, takes yet another approach, spinning off a parallel story that features a different protagonist (agent Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner) but takes place in the same universe as the previous films.
Directed and co-written by Tony Gilroy, and absent "Bourne" anchor Matt Damon, "Legacy" and its new approach are drawing mixed reactions from movie critics.
Times critic Kenneth Turan says that making a "Bourne" movie without Jason Bourne was "a brash and risky move," but one that paid off. The film, Turan writes, is "complex, unexpected and dazzling, alternating relentless tension with resonant emotional moments." It is also "impeccably cast": Renner brings "relentless intensity" and "just enough humanity" to his role, Rachel Weisz adds a "welcome emotional element to the mix," and Ed Norton is "as convincing and commanding as he's been in years" as a shadowy agency director.
The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern concurs that "'The Bourne Legacy' is a solid success, primarily though not entirely because of Jeremy Renner." Of Renner, he writes, "As an actor, he's tightly wound and interestingly inward, with frequent flashes of warmth. As a star, he's a quick-witted, well-spoken strong man whose vulnerability hints at a tragic sense." Morgenstern adds that "the production is impressive too," with Gilroy taking "reliable elements from the Ludlum canon" (referring to the Robert Ludlum novels on which the "Bourne" series is based) and adding his own twists, as well as coming up with "a resourceful solution to the problem of continuity."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis offers a more measured review, calling the new "Bourne" installment "less a thrilling franchise reboot than a solid salvage mission." She goes on: "The sympathetic Mr. Renner handles the action scenes persuasively, but Mr. Gilroy never turns the fight sequences, as both [previous 'Bourne' directors] Mr. [Doug] Liman and Mr. [Paul] Greengrass did, into occasions for a surprisingly resonant sense of regret and even sorrow. Cross has his own qualms, as flashbacks reveal, but none of Jason Bourne's deeply felt agonies or his strong sense of purpose."
Still other critics, among them Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle and Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, are panning the film. LaSalle insists that "the Bourne series ended with the last installment" and calls the latest entry "a 135-minute death rattle." The film is somehow "both over-plotted and under-plotted," it "squanders Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz," and it "contains only one effective action sequence." The rest, LaSalle says, is "calculated to impress, but dead."
Burr writes, "If you're going to make a 'Bourne' movie without Matt Damon, Jeremy Renner isn't a bad second choice." What's missing from the film, Burr says, "is any emotional stake … As enjoyable as he is to watch, Renner's underwritten Cross doesn't carry the same weight" as Damon's Bourne. Burr concludes with a dire prediction: "Don't expect the series to be back for a fifth movie, either."
Time will tell whether audiences embrace Renner's new super-spy and how they will respond to the latest "Bourne" film. For now, its legacy is up in the air.