1. The first three Jason Bourne films had an intensity, a vitality to them that made them feel urgent and relevant, grounded in the messy real world of global capitalism and a U.S. government that was alternately confused, corrupt, and terrified. The movies didn't have a specific politics other than paranoia: Everyone's out for himself or herself, everyone's hiding something, everyone's lying to everyone else. The great quiet joke of the films was that Jason Bourne knew nothing about himself. It was sort of the only route to heroism. The sad thing about The Bourne Legacy, the attempt to sustain the franchise in the wake of Matt Damon's departure, is that it's more interested in keeping the series going than in understanding what made it so vibrant in the first place. It takes everything to an excessive, nearly comical next level. In the first three films, everyone was in on the conspiracy. In this one, everyone is in on it, from the principle players to their doctors and their grandmothers and their high school prom dates and possibly even their dog. The film isn't steeped in anything but itself; large swaths feel more like a parody of a Bourne film than an actual one. At this rate, in the next sequel, we're going to learn that the conspiracy goes even higher, and it turns out that George Soros, the Koch brothers, and Charles Nelson Reilly were In On It Together All Along.
2. You can't blame Jeremy Renner for any of this. He gives a smart, muscular performance as another almost unwitting killing machine, one who, like Bourne, is a bit of a guinea pig for Big Pharma (or something). The general idea is that some pharmaceutical company has been working with the U.S. government to create some sort of mind control device in pill form—it's not all that different from what Ludwig was working on with Reggie Jackson in The Naked Gun—and Renner's character is one of the test subjects. It also gives them super strength and super intelligence, which come in handy for Renner. In an odd touch, he is established as a guy who, sans pill, actually is borderline mentally disabled. It's basically Flowers for Algernon with face punching. This leads to a couple strange little scenes when Renner's face starts to go blank as he runs out of super smart pills, and he stares dumbly off into the distance. I half expected him to start asking to be told about the rabbits.
3. For a big tentpole action movie, it's a bit surprising how little actual action there is in The Bourne Legacy. On the whole, it's just a bunch of talking. Oh, there is so much talking in this movie! Writer-director Tony Gilroy is particularly skilled at scenes of glowering military-industrial-complex/corporate types gabbing back and forth to each other—used to great effect in his fantastic Michael Clayton—and he goes back to that well over and over and over. The film moves back and forth between scenes of blandly evil CIA drone Edward Norton instructing a room of khaki-wearing subordinates in front of massive tech screens and scenes of Renner and Rachel Weisz (who plays a scientist who somehow got caught up in all this mess) running through various international locations. There could be something compelling about the usual war-room mechanics being used to track down and murder the good guys rather than save them, but the movie doesn't give itself much air to breathe. It turns into a monotonous series of extreme shaky-cam closeups of Norton's nostrils.
4. It's also extremely overplotted, throwing in new characters every 15 minutes or so and not giving us much context to figure out how they fit into this whole business. It also increases the level of difficulty by making sure to intricately tie the events of this movie to the events of the last three, just in case the audience had any doubt that they'd walked into a Bourne movie. So we have climactic scenes of Joan Allen and Albert Finney and David Strathairn from the previous films, even though they connect only tangentially to this film (and are barely in it), and only in the Larger Global Conspiracy sense. This leads to the odd sense that the events of this movie, all the stuff Renner and Weisz are sprinting away from, don't really matter: It makes this film feel like reboot filler.
5. The whole movie feels like that, all told. It's an awfully long 134 minutes, and it doesn't so much as end as run out of running time. (Seriously, when the credits came up, I actively thought, "Wait, that's it? Did they drop a reel or something?") The movie is competently made and intelligently conceived; more than anything, this is a movie that desperately wants to be considered Intelligent Entertainment. But it's all so needlessly complicated, jammed full of exposition you won't care about nearly as much as Gilroy thinks you will. The mess that this film is will ultimately be blamed on Renner, I suspect, considering he's the new guy, but that's a shame: He certainly came to play, and in a perfect universe he could play a Jason Bourne alternative quite effectively. Heck, I'd love to see the two Bournes fight. Though after the endlessly chatty and pointless scenes of The Bourne Legacy, I'd love to see any fight.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.