The Bourne Legacy has all the ingredients for a successful return to the franchise that proved to the world that Matt Damon could pull off ‘action star’. Tony Gilroy, who wrote the first three Bourne flicks, is back. There’s globetrotting international intrigue (Alaska, London, Korea, the Philippines), shoot-outs, fistfights, motorcycle chases, and high stakes cat-and-mouse games.

In fact, The Bourne Legacy has all the ingredients for a successful return to the franchise that proved to the world that Matt Damon could pull off ‘action star’… except Matt Damon.

Give credit to the producers for not trying to pull a James Bond-ish bait-and-switch, subbing in someone to take over Damon’s role as the amnesiac super-spy; fortunately they came up with the idea of centering on an entirely new (though not entirely different) character.

They almost pull it off– The Bourne Legacy is a surprisingly adequate thriller. It’s not without its faults, but it serves its purpose well and will, by and large, satisfy Bourne fans.

And hopefully you are a Bourne fan– otherwise you will be lost-with-a-capital-L for at least the first half-hour, as terms like Blackbriar, The Program, and Treadstone are thrown around in casual conversation.

The Bourne Legacy opens with agent Aaron Cross (Renner) traversing the Alaskan wilderness and battling wolves; we know not why. Interspersed with his adventures we see the CIA, retired military, and program directors debating the future of the top-secret mission that resulted in Jason Bourne and presumably expanded to include Cross.

Eventually Cross winds up at a remote cabin with a fellow spy, only to have all hell break loose– while at the same time, in the lab that helps the CIA monitor The Program, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) is trying to escape her own hell, as bullets start flying and bodies start dropping.

Shearing and Cross wind up together and set out on a joint mission to help Cross escape The Program for good. The only issue is staying ahead of the CIA, who are none-too-pleased with the idea.

Gilroy, directing his own script (co-written with brother Dan), brings the same level of mayhem and madness that Paul Greengrass did before him, though sometimes it continues longer than it needs to. The final motorcycle chase seems to keep going… and going, but on the plus side, Gilroy owns a tripod and actually uses it sporadically.

The script is very dense and the ‘in the thick of it’ start will have your head spinning; it’s best if you just let go and realize that everything (at least the important things) will make sense eventually. Just know that the events of The Bourne Legacy actually overlap the storyline of The Bourne Ultimatum; it’s not a traditional sequel.

Unfortunately it’s also that fact that will leave you missing Damon even more than you were already. Bourne’s name is mentioned often, his mug shot shows up throughout, and all his co-stars (save Julia Stiles) are back to serve as a reminder of what used to be. While Damon’s everyman-like turn as Bourne smartly focused on his confusion and humanity, Renner plays Cross with almost robot-like precision, and there’s rarely a doubt that he’ll get out of whatever situation he’s thrown into.

Overall the movie is a largely welcome companion piece to the original trilogy, and the wide-open ending makes it almost certain this won’t be the end of the line. And since Damon hasn’t unequivocally ruled out a return, we may actually get the best of both worlds; Bourne and Cross would certainly have a lot to talk about.

4/5 stars