Jeremy Renner, who made his breakthrough with the spectacular Oscar winning The Hurt Locker (2008) replaces Jason Bourne (played previously by Matt Damon), as Aaron Scott, another agent from one of the various secret operations spawned from the Treadstone programme. He is being hunted by the usual nefarious government operatives bent on exterminating every trace of the aforementioned programme after a public relations fiasco created during The Bourne Ultimatum. In that film Pamela Landy (played by the coolly intelligent Joan Allen) aided by Jason Bourne attempts to expose the government's illegal and secretive attempts to create a behaviourally modified group of super agents who are at the top of the game, but also heavily medicated with mysterious little green and blue pills without which they would suffer horrific withdrawal symptoms.
Made to be simultaneously in the same cinematic time frame as the third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, Aaron Scott is on a gruelling survival-training mission in the depths of the Alaskan wilderness just as Jason Bourne is creating havoc in the bowels of the CIA.
As Scott fights his way through the wilderness we witness his pill taking regimen and his astonishing physical prowess as he leaps from crag to crag and at one point, grapples with a wolf.
Not wanting to give away too many surprises, I will summarise by saying that both Scott and Dr Marta Shearing (played by Rachel Weisz), the only surviving researcher at the company that manufactures the pills and the virus that goes with it, find themselves on the run from the all seeing eyes of the government task force that is determined to find them. While this might seem like an all too familiar plot line, it is the two main characters and the riveting action sequences that keep the film from becoming an annoying repeat of its precursors.
Perhaps what is most interesting though, is not just the action, but also the slightly unexplored theme of a studied amorality that chooses not to address the ethical problems inherent in being the type of government agents who don't question their mission, and scientists who are willing to immerse themselves in an experiment that seeks to permanently alter human behaviour.
These are the stereotypes that Scott and Shearing exemplify, and while Scott's is explained away (however inadequately) by the retired Colonel Eric Byer (played by the ever excellent Edward Norton) when the two are on a mission in a dialogue where he calls themselves the "sin-eaters" – meaning people who carry out morally indefensible acts for the greater good – Dr Shearing's position and choices are never quite explained, leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth after the film.
The Bourne Legacy, however, remains interesting and worth watching primarily because it portrays these characters as such, without judgment– a position quite rare in action films where often good and evil are clear-cut. The Bourne films have always demanded the viewer's full attention; they don't baby us with any kind of dumbed down dialogue or over simplification of characters or plot. This is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of watching the latest installment of a still great franchise, always an astonishing accomplishment in Hollywood.
The Bourne Legacy is currently playing in theatres