In this fourth installment of the Jason Bourne movie series, Tony Gilroy (screenplay writer for the first three Bourne films) tries his hand at directing as we follow the story of yet another CIA black ops agent turned fugitive as he fights for his life against his own government.
The story picks up where The Bourne Ultimatum left off: Jason Bourne has left the CIA steeped in scandal, and its officials begin eliminating all of their current black ops soldiers as a crude means of damage control.
Enter Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a member of a Treadstone-like program known as Operation Outcome that enhances the mental and physical abilities of its agents. A subaquatic shot of Cross’s prostrate silhouette that anchors the film’s opening sequence is the first in a number of Bourne parallels that permeate Gilroy’s storyline. Like Bourne, Cross’s precise blend of superhuman strength and lethal intelligence endow him with an intriguing novelty as an action hero. Like Bourne, Cross thrives in chaotic situations, delicately balancing finesse and power, all the while struggling to maintain his humanity. Combine this with the Bourne series’ characteristic breakneck cinematography through harrowing combat and chase scenes and you should be assured another smash-hit, right? Were you to walk into this movie without any prior knowledge of the first three Bourne films, you would probably respond with an emphatic “yes.” The plot, while somewhat sluggish at the beginning, is generally engaging and inventive. Rachel Weisz plays Dr. Marta Shearing, Cross’s unwitting female companion throughout his adventure, as a doe-eyed but oddly capable sidekick. Renner’s deft portrayal of Cross is another of the film’s bright spots. Still, I could not shake the feeling that I had seen it all before. By striving to craft his new lead in such a Bournesque vein, Gilroy has doomed Aaron Cross to forever tread in Bourne’s formidable footsteps.
The storyline might be different, but Bourne fans will never be able to judge Cross as a stand-alone action hero. The first three Bourne movies were riddled with classic cinematic “wow” moments; these were feats that we had never imagined an action hero capable of, and we loved Bourne for it. Cross’s exploits are still riveting, but much of the originality that made the series a rampant success is lost as we begin to see the Bourne formula revealed through its repetition.
The first three films achieved a rare feat in Hollywood: each built on its predecessor, and the series improved as it progressed. Whatever the motivations for expanding the Bourne universe into a fourth chapter, Gilroy’s attempts at resurrecting the story leave it feeling stale. It’s still an enjoyable action movie, but the abrupt, unsatisfying ending left me wanting for the awe that hung over me as I walked out of the first three films. While Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels were only a tangential inspiration for Gilroy’s earlier Bourne films, I can see why he stopped at three.