Now here’s an oddity. It’s not a remake, a reboot or strictly a sequel, but rather a branch from an existing movie franchise. It clearly exists in the same world, taking place at the same time as the latter half of the third film – and there are connections – but in many ways it feels like an attempt to shoehorn a new story onto an existing franchise to capitalise on brand recognition. It’s still a fun film, but somewhere along the way it doesn’t quite sit right meaning that it’s firmly middling in quality rather than a high point in the year that the last one was.
The big problem is that it all feels as if it’s covering familiar ground. There’s the requisite roof top chase scene, the high speed car / bike chase and such, although none of it presented in a way that seems as fresh and exciting as it did five years ago. The problem here is also that Bond has returned in the same model in the intervening years, and every other spy saga is using the same language these days (except TTSS of course). The inclusion of the pharmaceutical element as part of the programme also sits badly, why is there no mention of this in the first series, was Bourne able to just kick the habit? It might not seem like much, but it reinforces the sense of a franchise being forced onto an idea.
It’s not all bad news, Jeremy Renner feels like a better fit for the series than the Matt Damon (who occasionally felt too young for the role) and Rachel Weisz is fine in a role that demands a lot of the heavy lifting emotionally. The problem is that we don’t really get to spend time with the supporting cast – in particular the second agent sent to terminate them. Karl Urban made a fine villain in the second film, here it’s almost an afterthought. Edward Norton is also underused, whilst he can spit out threats with the best of them, it feels odd for him not to be using his physicality to deliver the menace as well.
All in all, it’s not a bad film (and it’s better than a lot of Hollywood offerings), just one that’s hampered by its own history. Separated from the franchise and perhaps given a more serious stance (a film about the misuse of pharmaceuticals to control the armed forces could make a great paranoia thriller – or another Universal Soldier depending on how it’s treated) there could be a cracking film here, it’s just unfortunate that this isn’t it.