THE BOURNE LEGACY directed by Tony Gilroy, screenplay by Tony and Dan Gilroy based a story by Tony Gilroy, with Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Joan Allen. A Universal Pictures release. 126 minutes. Opens Friday (August 10). For venues and times, see Movies.
When Tony Gilroy wrote The Bourne Ultimatum, he thought he was done with the Matt Damon super-spy franchise. He went off and made Michael Clayton with George Clooney - scoring Oscar nominations for writing and directing in the process - and followed it up with the Julia Roberts/Clive Owen picture Duplicity.
And then, as in all spy stories, Bourne pulled him back in.
"This couldn't have been farther down on my list of expectations," he laughs during a press day at the Hazelton Hotel. "After I wrote Ultimatum, I was, ‘Man, I'll never be back here again.'"
But then he started thinking about avenues he hadn't explored in the scripts he'd written for Damon's trilogy.
"They were in a post-Matt world, just sort of fishing around for what to do," Gilroy says. "There were a couple of ideas, bigger ideas, that everyone got interested in. But it really wasn't until the character dropped on them - it was like, ‘Oh, my god.' That's what you look for."
The character was a new fugitive named Aaron Cross, who's caught in the blowback from the government's attempts to contain Bourne. Cross is played by Jeremy Renner, who's building an arsenal of unlikely action heroes with The Hurt Locker, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Marvel's The Avengers.
"He's real sweet and sour," Gilroy says of his star. "He's really hardcore, and he's such a killer, but at the same time, he's a nine-year-old. It's a potent combination for what the demands of this character are."
Gilroy describes The Bourne Legacy, which he directed as well as scripted, as "an upgrade" for the franchise. "The movie's more epic in terms of the breadth of the story," he says. "There's a different perspective. Rachel Weisz's character comes in with her own point of view, which is a brand new element in any of these movies."
He's also pulled back considerably from the jangled aesthetic employed by Paul Greengrass on Supremacy and Ultimatum.
"Moving the camera that way is not necessarily the key to excitement," Gilroy says diplomatically. "The other big problem was that it had been completely and utterly ripped off by everybody. I mean, everybody. Because it's not difficult to do, it's on TV now every night. It's on commercials."
The Bourne Legacy is also a little more interested in unpacking the levels of complicity and corruption that run through the series, exploring the idea that America is involved in some very ugly stuff.
Drone flights, surveillance of U.S. citizens, targeted assassinations, disinformation operations against civilians - nearly everything we see in the new film is something that's actually happened in the real world. I ask Gilroy whether he felt any resistance from the studio over the subject.
"Hollywood doesn't care," he laughs. "It's very pure in that sense. Rupert Murdoch made Fight Club. Is there a more inciting, subversive film than that? That was made by News Corp."