Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy is immensely popular, both in print and on screen.  Like the original novels, it is natural that such popularity would spawn spinoffs.  “The Bourne Legacy”, the new film by Tony Gilroy is therefore no surprise.  What is surprising is how exciting “The Bourne Legacy” is, even though the relationship to Jason Bourne is merely peripheral.

            Aaron Cross is a trained killer (just like Jason Bourne) employed by the U.S. government in a secret program.  But because of the unwanted publicity of Bourne (his only appearance in the movie is a mug shot on a newscast), the government is pulling the plug on the project, and eliminating any evidence of the program’s existence.  In typical spy-thriller fashion, the word “eliminate” is a euphemism for  kill.  On the run and outside the protection of the government program, Aaron travels to the lab where his progress has been monitored, in search of the government provided special chemicals on which his body is now dependent.  There, he rescues Marta, a lab researcher also targeted for “elimination.”  The two flee in search of the medical means of eradicating Aaron’s chemical dependency and therefore metaphorically cutting the strings that make him dependent on the same government that created him.

            Acting is virtually irrelevant in “The Bourne Legacy” with not one shred of character development, nuance, or even two dimensionality, which is a shame, because the cast includes some terrific actors.  Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”) plays Aaron Cross as a sort of cross between a robotic MacGyver, solving problems brilliantly, and athletic Jason Bourne, instinctively killing with merciless precision.  There is nothing to like or dislike in the character; he is more machine than man.  Rachel Weisz (“The Constant Gardener”) is classic damsel-in-distress Marta.  Her role seems to exist merely to offer excuse for Aaron’s violence, and to provide a sort of “science can be used for good or evil” commentary.  Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”) is the bulldog bureaucrat ruthlessly orchestrating the “elimination” of Aaron and Marta and others.  His lines are basically reduced to intensely barking, “Get them!” like a super-villain in a comic book.

The premise of “The Bourne Legacy” is similar to “Captain America:” the government creates a superman via contemporary scientific methods in order to combat enemies of the State; the difference is that in “Captain America,” the State has benevolent motives of delivering the world from evil, while in “The Bourne Legacy,” the State depicted is a cabal of self-centered bureaucrats intent only on protecting themselves and their own authority.  Similarly, Captain America himself is truly heroic, wanting to do good, help people, and defeat tyranny;  while Aaron Cross (notice the initials are reversed from Captain America) is essentially a man trained to kill, has no conscience whatsoever, and is really only interested in saving himself.  Yet because the government shown in the movie is so diabolical, and because Aaron is a killer through no fault of his own, he is seen as the relative hero of the movie.  In literature and cinema in the 1960’s we began to see the evolution of the hero into the anti-hero; in “The Bourne Legacy” we see the devolution of superhero to super anti-hero.

This is an action flick all the way and writer-director Tony Gilroy (and his writer brother Dan Gilroy) have scripted some incredibly intricate and exciting fight/escape/chase scenes that keep the audience on the edge of their seats.  Lushly filmed with brilliant colors and terrifically paced with staccato editing and slick writing, this film flies by so fast the plot holes and lack of character development barely register.