The Bourne Legacy
There are those action films that transcend their genre. Like Terminator. Robocop. The documentary Senna. That, through power of plot, character and some deep narrative yearning of soul become far more than the sum of their parts, and stay in the hearts of many more of us than just the 14-year-old boys who lay proper claim to them.
Jeremy Renner picks up the Bourne baton left by Matt Damon
The original Bourne trilogy sits comfortably within this bunch, and deserved a fitting spin-off. Instead, what it got was evidently the product of a meeting that consisted of "Ok, guys, sit down, I got the call. We got the rights to Bourne. Greengrass is out, Gilroy's in. So... anybody got any ideas?"
And it seems nobody did, so director Tony Gilroy was forced to polish off his pen that had created the original mould-breaking trilogy, and fill up an A5 page with plot.
The result is a story meant to run concurrently with The Bourne Ultimatum, ie that the effects of the Treadstone debacle - still being played out with elliptical references to Jason Bourne and his handlers - has forced the closure of other secret intelligence programmes, including this one, Outcome.
Outcome involves six neurally-designed agents, medicated so as to be super-efficient in the field, but, obviously, closure means disposal of them, one by one. Cut to grizzly Jeremy Renner on a preternaturally isolated mountain-top. Sound familiar?
Rachel Weisz is carrying the plot in her rucksack, with room for toiletries
Such sci-fi gubbins could have worked well except, realising perhaps that the scope of such a narrative was too ambitious for this next step in the franchise, the writers instead have over-simplified this into... telly-tubby land, where the fate of an agent depends on which order he takes his 'blues, greens and yellows', being handed out like Smarties.
Our man Aaron Cross (Renner) was left with a few blue ones, he'd run out of green ones - thankfully, he never got his mitts on a yellow one.
The cast are fine, with the exception of the bizarre casting decision of Aussie larrikin Shane Jacobson as the factory manager in Manila. Jacobson may have attained national treasure status in his native Australia (think James Corden without the Tony), but this oversized buffoon was last seen in the heartwarming Kenny (a rom-com about a toilet salesman), so to spot him popping up as one of our renegade hero's major challenges didn't exactly add ratchet up the tension stakes.
Rachel Weisz is pale and interesting, but basically too obviously English, to play a confused neural scientist. She gets lots of passages of impenetrable prose where we hear about "viralling out" and "storing the chems elsewhere", and even listing her qualifications in a wonderfully contrived bit of Basil Exposition.
Weisz is too smart an actress to miss the nonsense of all this. Instead, she compensates with lots of shivering, brandishing a shaking gun, shouting in bewilderment in an over-thick American accent, and looking meaningfully at Renner in contrived chemistry moments.
Jeremy Renner with Ed Norton - two Oscar-nominated actors
I like Renner. He's cute enough, his muscles pump, and he can grow a beard, bare his teeth at wolves and take a motorbike up a staircase with the best of them.
Nor does Edward Norton disgrace himself particularly back at HQ - handed the Joan Allen baton of tracking Aaron Cross through various checkpoints of multi-screen cat and mouse.
But the plot is, to quote Mr Creosote's waiter, wafer-flipping-thin. The whole point of Tony Gilroy's gig seemed to be to get his defiant pair from one set piece - an absurdly over-gothic house in the middle of the forest that we're meant to be believe belongs to Weisz's young, single scientist - to the rooftops of Manila for the inevitable Parkour sequence with everybody chasing everybody, even though there's only half a villain, established in about the second scene.
And then, somehow that's it, obviously to leave us gagging for the sequel to the spin-off.
Never has Paul Greengrass's directorial touch and, above all, lack of self-indulgence been so missed. Not in a million years would he have allowed lines like "Do you think you could run far enough or shout loud enough that they wouldn't finish what they started?" to make it back off the cutting room floor.
And Jason Bourne himself, seen in tantalising snapshots of news-stories as the ashes of the Treadstone saga get resurrected in a courtcase. There's even talk of Bourne being still "out there". Oh, if wishing made it so.
There is a reason Matt Damon is one of the highest stock-carrying actors in the world. Because he can carry the solitude of Bourne, just as he embodied the isolation of the talented Mr Ripley, and make us care for somebody who obviously isn't the biggest laugh at parties. Renner's not bad at all, but it feels like they've released his audition piece, instead of the actual film.
I absolutely adore the Bourne trilogy. This is not the spin-off it deserves. Hopefully the next one will have some wit, and a second page of A5 to really thrash out the story.
The Bourne Legacy is out today. Watch the trailer below...