If you compare "The Bourne Legacy" to the first "Bourne" movie, it will be a pleasant surprise. But if you size it up against the second or third, you're in for a disappointment.
Electrifying director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon (except for a couple of photos) are not involved in "Legacy," an overly complicated action movie that takes awhile to get on its feet but boasts a couple of entertaining setpieces and Rachel Weisz as the most compelling female sidekick in any of the "Bournes."
She's a scientist whose role in "Legacy" doesn't become clear for a long time because the opening of the movie is so busy misdirecting us. Virtually all of an early sequence in Alaska could be eliminated from the film or used by you for a popcorn run. But by the time Jeremy Renner, as a new CIA agent whose past has been wiped clean, runs into Weisz, "Legacy" is off and running.
In large part, that's due to Weisz's calm intelligence. Like us, she spends most of the movie in the dark about why Renner is on the run from the CIA. But as the movie shifts back and forth between Renner locomoting and a bunch of CIA types (Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy) planning, Weisz's attempts to make sense of the proceedings go a long way toward reassuring us that we're not the only ones who think this is one chaotic and overpopulated film.
Still, it has its moments. When a mystery woman, played by the riveting Elizabeth Marvel, drops in at Weisz's house, the results are spine-tingling. A rooftop chase in the Philippines is an exciting callback to previous rooftop chases in previous "Bournes." And it's surprisingly affecting when the movie reveals how the Renner character became a CIA operative. Much of the time, I had a tough time not wishing I were watching Damon, but Renner takes the reins in that scene.
Although it was written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the previous "Bourne" movies, "Legacy" often feels like a downgrade from the Greengrass/Damon ones (even in the casting -- I like Murphy, for instance, but she's no Joan Allen).
On the other hand, things start to click by the end of "Legacy" and, given that the Damon movies took a mulligan on the first one before getting into gear, I'd say the Renner/Gilroy "Bourne" deserves another shot.
Movie critic Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie .
"THE BOURNE LEGACY"
Directed by: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz
Rated: PG-13, for language and strong violence
Should you go? It's not great, but it's pretty good. **-1/2