When has a popular and widely acclaimed movie series finally run its course? The departures of the Bourne films’ longtime director (Paul Greengrass) and charismatic star (Matt Damon) probably serve as a pretty clear indication. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling series of spy novels, the Bourne movies needed some kind of reboot to have a shot at continued success, and that’s exactly what The Bourne Legacy provides. There’s only so much you can do to keep a series going when your protagonist has amnesia at the start of the first film and finally figures out who he is at the end of the third.
That human element — fictional CIA super-spy Jason Bourne’s search for his own origin story — has always balanced the series’ emphasis on fast-paced action. The Bourne Legacy takes another tack entirely, focusing on a related but distinct government spy program (with events happening concurrently with the previous Bourne film) that uses high-tech pharmaceuticals to genetically alter agents and render them smarter, stronger and faster than the merely well-trained ones. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) isn’t a bad substitute for Damon, and co-writer and director Tony Gilroy (who also co-wrote the previous Bourne movies) surely gets points for originality. But The Bourne Legacy seems oddly disconnected from the human struggles that have made the series work. It’s all about chromosomes and cold-blooded murder. And it may be the first pharmacological thriller. Don’t be surprised if it’s the last.