Popeye vs. the NSA

The Bourne Legacy: based on characters created by Robert Ludlum; written by Tony and Dan Gilroy; directed by Tony Gilroy; starring Jeremy Renner (Aaron Cross), Rachel Weisz (Dr. Marta Shearer), Edward Norton (Eric Byer), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Stacy Keach (Admiral Turso) and Joan Allen (Pam Landy) (2012): The Bourne Legacy could conceivably have been pitched as Captain America meets Three Days of the Condor. It’s an enjoyable addition to the Bourne saga, and while Matt Damon is nowhere to be found, squinty-eyed Jeremy Renner, here a post-modern Popeye, convinces as another rogue super-spy on the run from the U.S. government.

Hey, forget that pitch. The super-spies of what could have been called the Bourne 2.0 program have been enhanced through genetic manipulation of brain and body. As Renner had suffered grievous brain damage as a soldier, his life will basically stop if he can’t keep getting his meds — or find a way to make the modifications permanent. It’s Flowers for Algernon with car chases and parkour!

The Bourne movies are a mirror image to the James Bond movies, with the protagonists repeatedly battling their own spy agencies rather than enemies foreign and domestic. It certainly has suited our paranoid times for the last decade or so. Much of the danger in the Bourne movies arises from government agencies cleaning up their own messes, a repeatedly ruthless procedure that generally involves killing everybody expendable in a particular covert government program. Imagine if all civil servants had to face these sorts of cutbacks!

Acclaimed writer-director Tony Gilroy takes the reins here, and does a nice job of keeping a complicated plot moving. The supporting cast is solid, and Rachel Weisz is good as the geneticist Renner has to save in order to save himself before his stash runs out. Geez, it’s a bit like a Cheech and Chong movie, too. Recommended.

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