When Roseanne re-cast Becky you didn't really mind, right? You kept watching. You probably even kept watching during that last season that was all a dream. I did. I thought, "Well, this isn't really what I signed on for, but sure, go off in your new direction, show." And so it is with the fourth Bourne installment. No, Jeremy Renner isn't playing Jason Bourne. He's a badder mega-soldier, able to scale jagged cliffs and swim frozen rivers and walk up the side of a house. Seriously, he walks up the side of a house. As new Beckys go, they could have done a lot worse.
When Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got confusing after the first five minutes and forced your attention-paying abilities into high gear, tripping you up with switchbacks, information parsed out on a need-to-almost-know basis and a dozen separate trails of soggy bread crumbs, you realized you were in for a ride. And so it is with the fourth Bourne installment, except the multiple bread crumb trails that fill up the first hour, a slowly winding path where the sightseeing includes Rachel Weisz performing brain-chemistry science and a needlessly complicated explanation of the hows and whys and kill switches involved in covert ops-level mega-soldiers like Jason B. and his Renner-replacement, keep on promising to reveal a very big deal, but eventually turns into Torque.
When hyperactive motorbike masterpiece Torque happened, you said, "HELL, YEAH, TORQUE!" And so it is with the fourth Bourne installment, a film in which two-wheeled, vroom-vroom acrobatics may not take place against a backdrop of screaming neon Mountain Dew product placement and intentional manic humor, but do make you forget about all the slow-rolling espionage tutorial that came before it. They also involve a cyborg-level warrior guy who comes out of nowhere for no other reason than to get Renner involved in wicked speed-joust. This, in turn, results in a Rachel Weisz near-death grimace that will, in a perfect world, get frame-grabbed and turned into an Internet meme.
When The Matrix brought Valley of the Dolls-style pill culture to consciousness-altering, future-tech sci-fi, you didn't think about Valley of the Dolls, you thought about '90s raves. But that's kind of like saying "tom-ahh-toe." All you need to know is that pills make the story go. And when the guy in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed was dying due to lack of oxygen in his brain and only a transplant could save him, you... actually maybe you missed that one. But I didn't. It was great. And so it is with the fourth Bourne installment, a film that veers so far off the course of the trilogy that preceded it that stuff like pills-as-rocket-fuel-for-superhero-powers and crazy brain chemistry experiments seem perfectly normal in its parallel universe. Weisz, before the speeding motorcycle war, says phrases like "mitochondrial protein uptake." This is great, too. Other characters get their turns to make some excellently silly pronouncements about Renner's brain but I won't spoil them. Just know that science is important and if all you take way from the movie is a metaphor about its power to keep people from turning into drooling idiots, then that's perfectly enough.
And when you saw that Bourne trilogy, films that acted as anxious funhouse mirrors for the '00s, each one careening through post-9/11 terror, mass distrust of the government and shaky-cam as the new normal, all the while observing America's relationship to itself and the rest of the world with an ice-cold glare, you knew you were watching something that felt important for its moment. And so it is with the fourth Bourne install -- just kidding, no it's not. Pass the Junior Mints, please. They're pills for your brain.