I am a little confused as to why most reviewers are finding it necessary to explain that this film stars Jeremy Renner and not Matt Damon. Surely, anyone who hasn't seen the earlier films doesn't care, as the posters and trailers only show Renner; and anyone who has seen the 'Bourne Trilogy' has heard from at least one of the many reports, that have announced for months, that this is not a Matt Damon film.
Anyhow, my quibbles with reviewers aside, The Bourne Legacy is the fourth instalment, and also a reboot, within the Bourne franchise. The story revolves around Aaron Cross (Renner), who is a member of Operation Outcome, a black ops programme that, amongst other things, is running genetic experiments to enhance human capabilities, both physical and mental. We meet Cross on an Alaskan training exercise and learn about his skills and his dependencies. Parallel to this narrative, Jason Bourne is busy exposing Treadstone and Operation Blackbriar (as per the plot of The Bourne Ultimatum 2007), which leads to panic within the darker, more secret wings of the CIA, and consequently Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who oversees such projects, orders the 'shutdown' of Operation Outcome. Along with his Outcome doctor, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who herself is being hunted, Cross ingeniously escapes his fate and begins the international chase that is synonymous with Bourne films.
Unfortunate for any spy thriller made post-2002, when The Bourne Identity was released, comparisons with the Jason Bourne films are inevitable. This one is of course just a little more unfortunate as it is not only a spy thriller, but also bears the name of the trilogy that effectively altered the canvas of this genre. There are some obvious similarities in the way this film has been shot, in the way the music accompanies the narrative, in the way the 'evil' characters are written and portrayed. Where it differs massively is the characterisation of its main protagonist.
Jason Bourne was so clear about self-preservation that he was almost cold and mechanical. We knew that underneath his robotic front was a lost soldier, but he could operate without stopping to feel anything for a long time. Aaron Cross appears to be the kind of person who would stop to smell the flowers. He smiles, jokes and asks 'too many questions'. He is also a lot more open about himself, his dependencies and his shortcomings. He is aware of who he is and there is a lot less angst in him. It is his characterisation that provides the freshest and most interesting hook in this film, because otherwise, the film would just appear to be a cheap imitation of an excellent trilogy.
Jeremy Renner has very quietly climbed the rungs of recognition and success over the past decade or more. I remember him from an episode called 'Somnambulist' in the TV series Angel (2000), where he was a more than impressive adversary. Then nothing. I did not recognise him in a few outings I did see him in, till his daredevil turn in the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008) and later The Town (2010). Of course, since then he has become a lot more recognisable due to roles in major productions like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012). In all his performances, regardless of the standard of the production, he has always been excellent. And once again, in this film, Renner is excellent. Whether it is a success or not, and whether they make a sequel or not, he will be praised for a brilliantly natural portrayal of Aaron Cross.
The rest of the cast is adequate - as is the film. If we can get past the comparisons with a much more superior story, tighter scripts and more believable chase scenes in the previous trilogy, The Bourne Legacy is an exciting thriller. It has some plot holes and some slightly unbelievable moments, but generally it's a decent ride. Worth a watch.