New 'Bourne' can't establish own identity

Kevin Williamson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:28 PM ET

If only we could all forget as easily as Jason Bourne.

Then The Bourne Legacy, the fourth -- and entirely needless -- outing in the espionage franchise, could be forgiven for its multitude of shortcomings: a sluggish, convoluted first act; action sequences that never achieve the zero-G, out-of-body urgency of its predecessors; and an anti-hero who, despite not having his memory erased, registers as more of a blank slate than the character the film is named for.

On its own, this quasi-spinoff is a serviceable action thriller. But taken as one part of a greater sum -- and considering the film splices into segments of 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, it's impossible not to -- it struggles (ironically) to establish its own identity. Bourne himself, it turns out, casts too great a shadow.

Thematically, the sequel treads familiar terrain - namely, that the CIA apparently spends more time hunting its own rogue agents than tackling terrorism or other geo-political threats.

There was Bourne (Matt Damon), of course -- an amnesiac basketcase who led various intelligence agencies on globe-trotting chases throughout 2002's The Bourne Identity, 2004's The Bourne Supremacy and the aforementioned Ultimatum. And now we have Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), another top-of-the-line deep-cover operative who, amid the blowback from the Bourne debacle, is targeted by duplicitous well-tailored superiors including Edward Norton's cold-blooded Eric Byer.

When we first meet Cross he's training in Alaska -- climbing cliffs, swimming in sub-zero waters and being stalked by wolves (was Liam Neeson not available?).

Eventually -- and it takes much longer than it should -- Cross finds himself on the run following a drone attack engineered by Byer and aligned with a genetic scientist (Rachel Weisz) who may be the key to Cross re-upping on the neuro-chemical enhancements he needs to function. Yes, this may be the first spy thriller in which the protagonist is essentially a junkie hankering for a fix.

And it's part of the reason Cross, despite Renner's talents, is never as intriguing as Bourne, the mystery man who, while unable to recall his own name, knows automatically how to maim, disable and kill.

Another reason Cross is a less-than-satisfying replacement?

The sheer volume of time the movie devotes elsewhere, particularly in dawdling confabs between bureaucrats in dimly-lit chambers -- so much so that when the slam-bang action ratchets up, it seems less organic than perfunctory.

Put it this way: as an action director, Tony Gilroy, who penned drafts of the previous films, is a great screenwriter.

While Legacy is clearly open-ended to allow for further instalments, one hopes the studio and producers, like their original hero, recognize there's a time to disappear.


Photos