Shameless cash grab just seems too harsh – even if there is truth in the statement. Those were the words that ran across my mind as I exited the theater of The Bourne Legacy.

As a new fan of the original trilogy, I’m quite honestly disappointed by the newest Bourne outing. Sure, there’s nothing too new about the approach – we follow a rouge agent on the run with a girl while government officials use their powers to try and stay one step behind. While the first three films in the Bourne series were engaging, The Bourne Legacy just feels exhausted.

Tony Gilroy’s (a writer on the first three Bourne films) first directorial try at the franchise ends up being a muddled piece of seldom entertainment – coasting off the likability of its cast and a few paperback-worthy developments.

The story takes in the ripple effects of Jason Bourne’s actions in the third film. As the CIA begins to get rid of their other secret programs, one in particular called Outcome becomes the center of attention. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the new Bourne, so to speak, is an outcome agent who managed to evade the group’s mandatory terminations (all who were involved got the cut). As Cross begins to wonder why he is being targeted, he comes across a doctor from his past (Rachel Weisz) who helps him on his quest for answers. This time around, Edward Norton’s Eric Byer and Stacy Keach’s Mark Turso are the ones in the control room barking orders – hoping to eliminate Cross to cover their tracks.

Franchise players David Strathairn (the villainous Noah Voson), Scott Glenn (equally bad CIA director Ezra Kramer), Joan Allen (Bourne’s ally Pam Landy) and Albert Finney (Treadstone founder Dr. Albert Hirsch) appear in small cameos for good measure.

While the trailers showed promise, it’s hard to wonder why a new Bourne movie exists. The Bourne Ultimatum left the series on a note of closure – one that has been re-opened by the events of The Bourne Legacy. Remember how I said I felt bad for calling this thing a shameless cash grab? Well, I do, and I don’t.

This film feels like pure financial product at its core. Legacy is a tribute band compared to the previous three – hitting the same franchise beats and ideas fervently. While the film throws in a new element to the ‘super-agent’ idea (the Outcome agents get their skills from needed chemical tablets instead of Treadstone’s behavior modification), everything here just feels outdated.

While I love Edward Norton, his Eric Byer was by far one of the weakest villains I’ve seen on screen this year. In the past, the Bourne bad guys have had a mean streak to them that give the characters an added emphasis. David Stratharin’s Noah Voson is a perfect example. Voson (like many others associated with the mysterious Operation Blackbriar) uses his governmental pull to save his own name – willing to do whatever is necessary to take down Bourne and all who aid his efforts. While Byer likely has the same reasoning, you don’t get that from the way he’s presented. Honestly, he just doesn’t feel very villainous – a new problem for the series. Stacy Keach’s Turso has a viler streak, but he’s a small fish in a big pond.

Tony Gilory’s script here (written with his brother Dan) is the film’s biggest blunder. Gilroy is competent enough as a director to deliver a few solid sections of adventure, but he and his brother’s writing just doesn’t work. Most of the film’s set pieces feel forced. In an effort to expand the Bourne universe, the Gilroys have accidentally torn a few seams in the fabric. Their focal point, Aaron Cross, is a peg onto which they hang the film – not an engaging character like Jason Bourne. They better be thankful Jeremy Renner is a magnetic presence. In other hands, Aaron Cross could have been a completely disastrous addition. Rachel Weisz works as Dr. Marta Shearing/Cross’ companion for most of the film, but unlike Cross, she’s a decently written character. The plot is simple enough to follow if you’re familiar with the series, but like I’ve said about a few films in the past, I have to buy into your characters for me to care about the events on screen.

On top of the poor characterization, the action sequences here just feel bloated. While this could be said about one or two of the moments in the previous three Bourne outings, nothing yet has needed to be shortened like the final chase scene in Manila. Chased by agent Larx-03 (don’t even get me started), Cross and Shearing’s jaunt through the city feels overlong and eerily similar to Bourne’s chase through Tangier in The Bourne Ultimatum. And don’t expect an ending that satisfies. They’ve set this thing up for a sequel in the most unfulfilling fashion.

To me, this movie and July’s The Amazing Spider-Man represent two very similar ideas. Both are essentially reboots of successful trilogies (one in a new universe, the other in a slightly altered one) that try too hard to emulate the success of their predecessors while attempting to be their own films. Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass/Doug Liman’s shadows loom heavily over The Bourne Legacy just as Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi’s shadows did over The Amazing Spider-Man. Quite frankly, the three films in each of those series outweigh the new offerings of 2012.

But like The Amazing Spider-Man, the two lead performances and a few inspired moments leave me curious on where the new franchises will head. I hope The Bourne Legacy learns from its mistakes, makes Norton’s Eric Byer a villain worth hating, gives Aaron Cross a deeper, more emotionally driven backstory, and tries to be its own product without borrowing too heavily from the Jason Bourne playbook.

As Moby’s franchise song “Extreme Ways” played over the film’s ambiguous ending, I didn’t feel the same sense of excitement and satisfaction I did when those echoing sounds played in the previous Bourne films. I felt disappointed and quite confused. I’m still hopeful that Gilroy (or whoever directs the next, inevitable film) gives us a far worthier continuation of the series. You’ll likely have to see The Bourne Legacy at some point, so let’s hope things get better from here.

Note: Toward the middle of the film, there is a very sensitive scene set at a doctor’s office that echoes the recent shooting events in Aurora, Co., and Oak Creek, Wis. If you see a character in the film locking doors, you might need to excuse yourself from the theater. Viewer’s discretion is advised. 

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