Bourne Again: action series survives minus its star. 

The initial Bourne trilogy — with Matt Damon in the title role as novelist Robert Ludlum's American super-spy analog to James Bond — completed its arc in a very satisfying manner. But someone decided there was more juice to be squeezed from the Bourne fruit by expanding the universe.

Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) and Damon are gone (for now, perhaps), but replacing them are Tony Gilroy, who directs this time around and benefits from having co-written the original three films, and Jeremy Renner, an actor ascendant on the heels of The Hurt Locker and The Town.

Renner stars as Aaron Cross, another American badass in the mold of Bourne, though he's a bit of a technological upgrade. Cross and others like him take pills that enhance their physical and intelligence quotients. That's good when the supply is plentiful but bad for them when their governmental overlords decide to shut them down in the fallout from Bourne going rogue.

Deprived of his meds and on the run, Cross finds an ally in Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor working in the program but who now also finds herself targeted for elimination.

For at least half the film, The Bourne Legacy takes place simultaneous to the events of Supremacy and Ultimatum. While new puppet-masters Edward Norton and Stacy Keach are grappling with Cross, they've got their other eye on Bourne. Though Damon doesn't appear in new footage, many of the other films' co-stars make cameos. The fourth Bourne film widens the scope: It's as if the James Bond people made a movie about the other double-O agents and what's happening to them while 007 is contending with Dr. Julius No and Auric Goldfinger.

It's old news that the Bourne series has ambitions beyond its Bondian inspiration. The Bourne Legacy tries to deepen the divide in notable ways. The film embraces murky post-9/11 themes of high-tech surveillance and military-industrial-complex concerns, replete with drone warfare, spying on citizens, and defeating an intangible enemy no matter the human toll or collateral fallout.

Norton's character sums up the worldview best: "We are morally indefensible and absolutely necessary."

The Bourne Legacy is exciting stuff: Cross fights off some wolves and shoots down a drone. There is also a terrific extended action set piece at the end reminiscent of Terminator 2. Here, Gilroy does for vehicular chases what Greengrass did for fistfights in The Bourne Ultimatum, editing the action down to a hyper-condensed series of shots.

But there are thematic outliers the film struggles to contain, particularly a horrifyingly intense workplace shooting sequence and the attempted enforced suicide of a likable character. It also suffers from its own premise: Though clocking in at 135 minutes, it contains so much setup that the film almost ends abruptly. The next installment promises to be even better, especially if it returns to Renner and Weisz, still hot and sweaty in the Philippines.

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The Bourne Legacy
Rated PG-13 · 135 min. · 2012
Official Site: www.thebournelegacy.com
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writer: Tony Gilroy
Producer: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Jeffrey M. Weiner and Ben Smith
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz, Joan Allen, Oscar Isaac, Donna Murphy, Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Stacy Keach

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