Writer-director Tony Gilroy goes off on a tangent in this 'extension' of the Bourne series, tracking the progress of another rogue assassin played by Jeremy Renner. Gilroy knows the formula well, having adapted the Robert Ludlum books for director Paul Greengrass, but there's a photocopy effect that means this thriller isn't quite as richly dark. Instead, it carries you along with high energy.
Our hero isn't running on pure adrenalin, though. Aaron Cross is a guinea pig in a covert government programme to churn out genetically modified soldiers, but he becomes dependent on the little blue pills and when supply runs out, he's determined to go as far as the Philippines to get his fix, dispatching with brutal efficiency any spooks who get in his way.
Raw violence appears to suit Renner, who earned an Oscar nod for battlefield drama The Hurt Locker before appearing in superhero caper The Avengers. He's a man who genuinely looks like he's been through the wars, not pretty like Matt Damon, but a natural born action hero, rougher and tougher than Jason Bourne - a look that fits nicely with a ground-level view of the action.
Rachel Weisz is a jittery genetic scientist and unsuspecting cog in the military machine who survives two tensely staged shootouts; the first in the lab and the second at her broken-down country house where Cross jumps in, ninja-style. He promptly whisks her away to Manila to cook him up a new batch of the good stuff, before a fatal case of cold turkey kicks in.
There's a tenderness between the two which is almost immediate (evidently, a case of Florence Nightingale syndrome) but not much in the way of powerful chemistry - that is, unless you count the injections she's giving him. In fact, their bond is actually a little bit detrimental to the story, because it means that Cross isn't so burdened with a sense of isolation.
Gilroy keeps their partnership cosy and the action, brisk, and though he often mimics Greengrass's style, he does pull off a climactic motorbike chase through Manila with roaring success. It's in the quiet moments that he's less sure, forgetting that it was Bourne's utter alienation (even while accompanied) that gave his story a claustrophobic feel, more than the bad guys closing in on him.
Renner has the chops - in martial and performance arts - he just doesn't have the material to make Cross as complex or interesting as Jason Bourne. Gilroy misses opportunities to delve deeper and explore the personality changes that could be inflicted by the drugs (and withdrawal), preferring instead to keep a fast, forward motion. It's an exciting chase thriller, but it's thin, playing like the first act of three parts and while Cross is physically strong, he may not have the legs for it.