Jeremy Renner (Avengers) is locked and loaded ready for parkour chases and plenty of firefights as a rogue agent in The Bourne Legacy. But are you? Never seen those other Bourne flicks (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum) starring Matt Damon? Never fear. Our handy guide will get you up to speed. You'll know more than Bourne, which isn't much, since he's usually suffering from amnesia.
1. Treadstone, Blackbriar and Now Operation Outcome Are Up to No Good: All secret U.S. agencies with sinister-sounding names equal bad things for Bourne, or in Legacy Aaron Cross (Renner), the fifth recruit of the program. Fortunately, no matter how many satellites, tapped phone conversations or hired thugs the agency puts in the field, they are ineffectual, albeit shady, desk jockeys. Expect a lot of speeches and much brow furrowing from Edward Norton as Col. Eric Byer, the man who's out to retire all agents from the Bourne initiative.
2. He's No 007: James Bond will do anything for the queen, but with the U.S. government always trying to kill off their super agents (Bourne and now Cross) there's no love lost. Plus, Bourne flicks forgo any kind of colorful über villains. And because there aren't a ton of gadgets to go around, the agents often improvise. Special thanks to The Bourne Supremacy for illustrating just how lethal a magazine can be.
3. The Players: In Legacy, Jason Bourne (Damon) is only seen in a picture that looks like it was taken from the franchise's first film, which makes the timeline a bit sketchy. The constant? Joan Allen is back as Pamela Landy. Some aspects are familiar even with different names. Famka Prontente (Run Lola Run) was Damon's sidekick (and more) in Identity, Julia Stiles was his brainy contact (and more) in Supremacy and Ultimatum. For Legacy, Renner has Rachel Weisz as the whip smart Dr. Marta Shearing to hang with, escape on a motorcycle with and possibly smooch.
4. The Directors Set the Tone, Not the Books: From Doug Liman's anti-glam, relentless thrills (Identity) to Paul Greengrass' shaky-cam vibe (Supremacy, Ultimatum), the real flavor of the series is the look and feel more than the actual plots. Robert Ludlum's novels supplied the name Jason Bourne and the basic premise: Super spy tries to take down corrupt agency that trained him. However, so much has been revised onscreen that the films barely resemble the source material. (In the Ultimatum book, Bourne is pushing 50.) And there were only three books. Tony Gilroy who cowrote the screenplay for Identity takes over with story, writing and directing credits for Legacy.
5. Just Enjoy the Sights: Nearly every scene has some exotic locale highlighted—Germany, The Philippines, um, "Chicago," but it's all white noise. Ditto all the frenzied computer screens that fly by with endless streams of data like off-shore account numbers or drone missile targets.
Up to speed already? Feel like this only got newbies started? Park the Mini Coopers and sound off in the comments.
(E! and Universal Pictures are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)