A jarring scene of workplace violence threatens to throw the more popcorn-movie rhythms of "The Bourne Legacy" completely out of whack.
No doubt, the pistol-wielding sequence in writer-director Tony Gilroy's riveting addition to the "Bourne" franchise was made more wrenching because the preview took place a week after the theater massacre in Aurora. It also serves as a reminder that the "Bourne" films have always wielded brutality with a sense that there's something at stake. This is a heft the franchise shares with the even darker Batman films of Christopher Nolan. (Although each franchise's PG-13 rating means they are mostly blood-splatter-free.) Still, the aforementioned carnage isn't fueled by race rancor or brain-chemistry madness. Although it's made to look like the latter. Instead it is the sign of a governmental paranoia at work.
At the end of 2007's "The Bourne Ultimatum," Jason Bourne went into the belly of the beast that robbed him of his memory and remade him. That third installment was Matt Damon's final as the existentially troubled agent. And while the door has been left ajar for Jason to return, the franchise has found a compelling, new hero in Aaron Cross and a commanding performer in Jeremy Renner. It's possible Cross, a former U.S. soldier presumed dead, has an even more daunting skill set than Jason Bourne. Consider him and the new movie Bourne 2.0.
Written by Gilroy and his brother Dan, "The Bourne Legacy" rides on the entirely credible notion that Bourne was not the only agent the government was tweaking with drugs and training and biochemical meddling. He turns out to be the tip of the spear. There are other research programs besides Treadstone and agencies beyond the CIA involved in the behavioral and physical engineering of machine-efficient operatives.
Don't let the movie's many governmental acronyms and the medical jargon throw you -- the point is a simple one: Bourne's final incursion into New York made the government's clandestine work vulnerable. What's "morally indefensible but absolutely necessary," as one defender for the programs says, needs to be liquidated.
Edward Norton puts a cool face on bureaucratically lethal decision-making as retired Col. Eric Byer, the man who founded and kept the various projects running and now is yanking the plug. No agents. No medical researchers. No scientists. No exceptions.
Rachel Weisz portrays Dr. Martha Shearing, a medical researcher who was happily engrossed in her brainy work as a researcher without considering the bigger picture. Once she becomes the lone survivor of a rampage, she no longer has that amoral luxury.
Renner and Weisz work well together as two hunted souls who initially need each other for utilitarian reasons. Although she doesn't get it at first, she requires his protection. He needs the drugs that keep Outcome agents physically and mentally whetted. Their slow simmer into something romantic may feel familiar, but it's also appealing. We root for them even when they're participants in a beautifully absurd, boldly choreographed motorcycle chase in Manila, capital of the Philippines.
A writer on the franchise at its start, Gilroy is a trustee of the franchise intelligence. He's also a deft and confident purveyor of genre action. You ask: How confident? "The Bourne Legacy" doesn't plunge headlong into action but instead takes its time to introduce its newest hero, a solitary figure in a frosty wilderness about to come in from the cold.