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film review

This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing, right, and Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in a scene from "The Bourne Legacy."Mary Cybulski/The Associated Press

There is no Bourne in The Bourne Legacy. Matt Damon's Jason Bourne has disappeared, perhaps forever. And that takes getting used to. One of the kicks to the Bourne trilogy was watching its All-American hero wake from amnesia to discover he is a practised killer.

Remember in The Bourne Identity how the boy next door summoned Eagle Scout improvisation tactics, using a 99-cent pen to foil a machine-gun-wielding assassin?

Filmmaker Tony Gilroy, who provided scripts for Bourne's Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, not to mention writing and directing Michael Clayton, is a master of murky political noirs. But this time out, he's in exposé mode. Most of the dark shadows and nervous hand-held camera work from previous Bournes are, like former star Damon, gone.

The Bourne Legacy opens midday in Alberta's snow-bright Kananaskis Park, with a Bourne double, Aaron Cross, enduring his series baptism, swimming a frigid, seven-degree glacial lake. (Gilroy says star Jeremy Renner made the December dip without understudy or complaint.)

Bourne double? Aaron Cross? Put them together and yes, you have Double Cross. Renner's character is in the same leaky boat as Jason Bourne – a rogue field operative, an asset gone bad, who must be terminated by nervous secret-service sponsors, this time led by Edward Norton and Stacy Keach doing a passable Dick Cheney impersonation.

Cross traverses the Rockies, dodges a drone missile and dupes a wolf pack (in a sequence that out-Jack Londons anything in The Grey) before tracking down a dope-dispensing scientist who has made Aaron what he is: a superstar athlete-operative addicted to malevolent spycraft and performance-enhancing drugs.

The scientist, Dr. Marta Shearling, is well played by a frazzled Rachel Weisz. And most everything about the first half of The Bourne Legacy proceeds with the acrobatic guile that characterized the Bourne trilogy, last decade's definitive thinking-man's action series.

One of the latest Bourne's hooks – the idea that secret-service field operatives are laboratory action heroes, not far from Ridley Scott's Blade Runners – liberates the series, making credible any and all superman heroics. At the same time these athletic feats are made more sinister, as the film reveals what happens when Cross doesn't get his "greens" and "blues" and is reduced to a depleted, sweating junkie. (Gilroy connects big-league sports and spying with drug jargon; pro athletes have been using amphetamines and calling them "greenies" for decades.)

Alas, not all of The Bourne Legacy's chemistry works as well as Aaron Cross's coloured tablets. Stars Renner and Weisz lack the rapport that characterized Matt Damon's furtive affairs with Julia Stiles and Franka Potente in previous Bournes. Damon's shy affection for his captive running mates offered sweet pockets of nutritive calm in the otherwise fast-galloping action pictures.

What with all the greens and blues coursing through his system, Renner doesn't seem capable of normal, red-blooded affection for a woman. There is an awkward formality in his dealings with Weisz. They're never more than doctor/patient. All of which is disappointing, given how well screenwriter Gilroy orchestrated the odd-socks romance between Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan in Proof of Life.

And so the film's denouement, which takes place in Manila, is never as involving as we might hope. We care about Cross and Dr. Shearling, but not what happens to "them."

With that said, Bourne fans will find much to enjoy about The Bourne Legacy, even if they are forced to do without the title character.