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You can’t blame Universal for being reluctant to let a commercially and critically successful franchise go. A Bourne movie without Bourne, Matt Damon or Paul Greengrass does seem a little desperate but the justifiable if predictable cynicism surrounding this expanded universe project doesn’t change the fact that if a film is good enough it doesn’t need any greater justification to exist.

Jason Bourne and Pamela Landy have exposed the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs and in their haste to cover their tracks the CIA begins systematically terminating other black ops agents in their Outcome program. Among them is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), currently deep in Alaska on a survival training mission. But Cross manages to outwit his employers’ attempts at a long-range hit and heads off in search of Dr Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), an Outcome scientist herself the only survivor of a workplace murder suicide, in the hope she can supply him with the chems he needs to maintain his physical and intellectual abilities.

The Bourne Legacy gets about half of it right. The action set pieces and various exciting sequences are uniformly excellent, with at least four scenes as good as anything this kind of cinema has produced this year. The cast are decent, generally doing the best they can with a script that doesn’t give a whole lot of scope for character development. The plot, concerning a genetically enhanced super-soldier looking for his fix whilst dodging the assassination attempts of his former employers is nowhere near as compelling as an amnesiac super-soldier struggling to find his identity whilst dodging the assassination attempts of his former employers.

Jeremy Renner tries to inject a mildly playful personality into Aaron Cross but isn’t able to follow it through beyond a handful of early scenes. He certainly puts in the effort in the action scenes but lacks the vulnerability that so endeared us all to Matt Damon’s character. Rachel Weisz handles some intensely emotional scenes brilliantly but is given no material with which she can develop her character beyond a plot device. Edward Norton fills the shoes previously worn by the likes of Brian Cox and David Strathairn and his impassioned speech about sin eaters brings the shades of grey needed to sell his role of not-quite-a-bad-guy well and his scenes of conspiratorial whispers keep things gripping but do nothing we haven’t seen before.

That seems to be the story of The Bourne Legacy. Much of it is very good indeed and the action and resourcefulness of the hero stand up to the previous trilogy without ever outdoing it but some major ingredients are missing. The pacing could also use some work with a number of scenes allowed to drag on beyond what seems strictly necessary and while the scenario and references to previous films help to expand the universe ably the end result feels like an afterthought rather than a logical evolution.

Verdict

The Bourne Legacy is one of the better thrillers this year and well worth seeing but, perhaps as you might expect, fails to live up to the expectations usually associated with its absent title character.

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