#5 in my ranking of the Bourne Franchise.
So, Universal wanted the Bourne franchise to continue, but they didn’t want to pay Matt Damon the kind of money he wanted and Paul Greengrass didn’t want to return anyway. So, they did the next best thing and elevated Tony Gilroy, the writer of the first three movies, to director and brought in generic action man of the early 2010s, Jeremy Renner, to star. This has a very different, almost lackadaisical feel to it in comparison to the first three movies, and I think it ends up suffering for it.
I think there are a few problems about the film that keep it from really feeling alive. The first is the insistence on having this spinoff function as a tangible result of the events of the third movie. It mostly occurs at the bookends of the film, but there’s a concerted effort to shoehorn in the CIA director, Noah Vosen, and Pamela Landy. The CIA Director makes a bit of sense as he appears at the beginning and gives the push for the plot to begin, but the other two make up a coda at the end that doesn’t really seem to tie into the actual movie all that well as it provides an ironic twist on the ending of the third film.
The second problem is how long the movie really takes to get going.
So, Aaron Cross is a new agent in training in a remote corner of Alaska, having been dropped into the wilderness and tasked with making it to a cabin some distance away. He spends about the first thirty minutes of the movie getting there and then talking to another agent soon to die about nothing in particular, focusing really on the reasons why the agent is there, a question that’s not really all that important. At the same time, Dr. Marta Shearing is doing her job in a government lab that monitors the performance of agents in Cross’s program based on their receptiveness to a series of drugs meant to increase their physical and mental performance (the amount of time for this basic information to come out about the pills the entire plot ends up revolving around is kind of unreal). While all of this is going on, Eric Byer, some kind of government fixer, is brought in to clean up the mess from the end of The Bourne Ultimatum and decides to liquidate all resources tied to Treadstone and Blackbriar, including offshoot programs, and that means killing everyone involved, apparently.
So, this finally rolls out at about the thirty minute mark when a drone attacks the cabin Cross is in and a colleague goes nuts in Dr. Shearing’s lab, killing everyone but her. Cross, having run out of his pills, runs to the doctor who saw him on his checkups, Dr. Shearing, by stealing a plane and landing in Maryland without anyone noticing, apparently. He ends up saving her in her house when some agency people come to kill her. It’s about here that the movie finally feels like it’s beginning, that the rest was just the sort of setup that you take about ten to fifteen minutes to establish. It really needed to be cut down and simplified at the script stage.
So, the third problem ends up being the stakes of the film. Aaron Cross’s entire motive for the film is to get pills so he doesn’t go dumb again. In the face of the Byer elements of the plot, this feels like a weird side-mission instead of what should be the focus. At least The Bourne Ultimatum tried to get Jason Bourne invested in the toppling of a corrupt CIA program. Here, Aaron Cross only wants his pills and then, late, to be left alone. It’s a weird clash of plot focuses where the central emotional elements wrapped around Cross never feel terribly important or connected to everything else going on.
Dr. Shearing is running for her life, so she tags along with few good options and agrees to help Cross. They have to go to Manila to the factory where the pills are made to try and get more for him. I think this is where the movie succeeds best because as they go, Byer leads a team to track them down, and it’s a much more grounded version of surveillance than the more cartoony version in The Bourne Ultimatum. They pick up small details from satellite imagery, security cameras, and the like to piece by piece but together the path of their two targets from Maryland to Manila. It’s a strongly built sequence that never feels cheap, and it’s probably the best part of the film.
From then on, it becomes an outright chase as Byer sends an agent (with the best scores of this and that ever) to get them, and we get our perfunctory car chase through Manila. It’s a finely filmed car chase in the tradition of the franchise, though it is not as well executed as Greengrass and it doesn’t have the emotional weight of The Bourne Supremacy. It’s fine, leading our heroes to escape and disappearance from the franchise forever.
I really fell like this is a missed opportunity to recast the lead in a franchise, refocus is beyond the main star of the previous films, and move beyond the same plot mechanics. However, it takes forever to get going and never really gets its two major plot threads to convincingly and interestingly interact. Those two failures end up undercutting any impact of the third act chase where the movie had hidden most of the action, and a lot of it ends up falling flat. Maybe Aaron Cross could have gotten into more interesting adventures later, but we’ll never find out.