I have to say, my sprits lifted a bit when finally Jeremy Renner stole a motorbike. Oh goody, I thought, a car chase. It wasn't a bad car chase either, though not as crunchy as the one from the second Bourne movie. Which is something I was thinking, while I was supposed to be thinking about how cool and or dangerous this all was. And this is the Bourne movie problem; they don't really stand up on their own merits.
The Bourne movies have pulled off something quite remarkable; they've managed to create a spy movie franchise reeking with artistic credibility so that they can go around hiring all sorts of people who wouldn't be seen dead in that kind of movie. I spent the first twenty minutes of the movie tallying up who they'd hired, and marvelling. It was more fun than that part of the movie, sad to say. The other fun thing was appreciating the way that they've intricately stitched this movie into the other three, so that it seems almost like a continuation of the first three movies when in fact it's kind of a remake of the first one. There's been a lot of that going on since the first Bourne movie unexpectedly made so much money that they had no choice but to go on making them; the second one blends smoothly into the third one, and the third one cleverly ends by circling back to the end of the first movie. Now the scene setting of the fourth movie unfolds in parallel with the action of the third one. It's very clever writing, and the back office plots are sold well by people like Ed Norton.
Still, it doesn't make a lick of sense if you think about it, or know anything at all about how espionage really works, so it's just as well that at regular intervals there are fights and shootouts and general purpose trickiness to distract you.
The Bourne Legacy consciously echoes The Bourne Identity; it starts with a body floating face down in blue water, and it ends with the hero apparently having made a clean getaway with the romantic interest. Presumably, in the next movie, Rachel Weisz will get shot in the head for no very good reason and Jeremy Renner will set off on a rip-roaring rampage of revenge, or something. In between that it's a weird mixture. On the one hand, the "lets all make super soldiers with viruses and such" plot behind the action is even more preposterous than the original Bourne's "lets all make super soldiers with brain washing" plot. On the other hand, Jeremy Renner picks up his chick sidekick in a much more credible way than Matt Damon picked up Franka Potente. There's a perfectly good reason for him to go looking for her, and it's all set up in a painstakingly believable way. It all still averages out to "You've got to be kidding me", but I appreciate that people were taking the trouble to get everything to make some kind of sense.
Jeremy Renner seems to be turning into an unlikely substitute anchor for all kinds of franchises; first Matt Damon couldn't be bothered doing any more Bourne-ing, and then Tom Cruise seems to be more interested in his unlikely impersonation of six foot five inch man mountain Jack Reacher, so Renner's being groomed for that franchise too. It's great to see him get the work - and great to see an intelligent actor bringing a bit more to dumb movies than you usually get - but if he's doing all of that, will he have the time to do anything more useful? Because I can see him being pretty tied up for the foreseeable future with that stuff, and that means we're less likely to see him quietly running away with every scene in movies like The Town and The Hurt Locker.
The first Bourne movie succeeded when it wasn't expected to do so well; the fourth one is more of the same, but delivers the goods well enough that there will be even more of the same. Things could be a lot worse, I suppose, but when you see that much talent given that much money, it's only human to hope for something more than competence.