Renner fills Matt Damon's shoes and then some. This thriller dovetails nicely with the final Damon film. We don't see him in person, but Jason Bourne has arrived in America and set in motion the collapse of a malevolent spy ring involving the CIA and various covert agencies run by bigwigs and crooked pols. Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross is, like Bourne, a specialized assassin who's had his DNA played with by Big Pharma. The difference is that unlike Jason Bourne, who spent three feature-length films trying to figure out who he was and why he possessed those marvelous mixed martial arts skills, Aaron Cross knows exactly who he is and remembers everything, including the bomb blast that almost killed him as a soldier in Iraq. The rest of the world, including his family, thinks he did die in Iraq. The Agency, in the person of Edward Norton, Jr., uses his battlefield "demise" to recruit him into black ops and it's been one world hotspot after another ever since.
So that's the secret Aaron Cross must guard, and he knows he will never really be able to go home. Rachel Weisz plays Dr. Marta Spearing, a biomedical researcher who develops and administers the gene-altering drugs that turn Aaron and his cohorts into superhuman specimens of strength, stamina and mental acuity. In an interesting twist, however, she has no idea what her patients do when they leave her lab. She doesn't know, for example, that Patient #5 (aka Aaron Cross) is a hired trigger working for the government. So it comes as a shock to her when the Agency's puppet masters issue orders to eliminate everyone associated with the program, from the super-agents at the top all the way to down to the lowliest lab tech and, of course, Aaron Cross and Dr. Spearing.
How Dr. Spearing and super-assassin Aaron Cross come to be astride a dirt bike careening through the back streets of Manila pursued by a super-duper-assassin, I will leave to your viewing pleasure. (Hint: it has to do with the fact that to keep his skills intact, Cross needs a steady supply of the drugs Dr. Spearing doles out—and he's running out of drugs!) The movie builds to its thrilling climax carefully and logically and in no big hurry—the running time is over two hours—and the director makes a dramatic improvement in one element of the story that figures prominently in every spy-gone-rogue movie you've ever seen: the war-room scene with monitors and operatives at chirping computer screens and someone in charge yelling "Get me eyes on Bourne! C'mon people, this is a Level Five national emergency!" and voila, we're able to follow the bad-good-guy and his girlfriend through every train station and hotel lobby from Berlin to Bangkok. This patent absurdity bothers me almost as much as the scrolling date-time-location stamp in the lower right corner of the screen with each change in location. The technology to track people by video, by credit card usage, by cab fare, certainly exists, but piecing together random sightings and snippets of video into a trail you could follow would take hundreds of specialists and hours of time in one of those war rooms. And this movie acknowledges that fact in a way that makes the ensuing chase plausible, fascinating and believable.
Another element I found fascinating was the story's horrifying use of Predator drones to knock off inconvenient agents. The tiny aircraft are (mostly) silent, deadly, reliable in any weather—and operated by bored technicians in offices just outside the Beltway somewhere. One flight plan delivers supplies to operatives living next to a frozen lake in Alaska. Another flight plan launches Hellfire missiles on those same operatives, all with the click of a mouse. Amazing, and true-to-life.
Four stars for verisimilitude in a genre that too often stretches the bounds of credibility. Mild language, no sex, but people dying in agonizing ways. One drawn-out scene of an office-worker shooting his colleagues was especially hard to watch because of what seems to be in the news every day. But I'll watch this one again.