On August 10, one of the biggest films of the summer will open: The Bourne Legacy, the fourth film in the hugely popular Bourne franchise. Though this is expected to be a major blockbuster, it also has the potential to flop, for one simple reason: a fourth Bourne film isn’t necessary.
Matt Damon, whose portrayal of Jason Bourne is one of the most iconic in modern cinema, will be absent from the film. Instead, it will star Avengers star Jeremy Renner. Paul Greengrass, who directed the second and third installments of the franchise, has also called it a day with Bourne. Instead, screenwriter Tony Gilroy will be directing. Greengrass’s 2009 announcement of his departure motivated Damon’s, and producers have spent the past three years trying to find a way to do Bourne without Bourne, revitalizing a dying franchise when they could have been creating entirely new characters and an entirely new world.
The teasers promise, “There Was Never Just One.” While the introduction of a new character to a franchise that was built on one man’s performance seems impossible, it’s also completely in line with the current trends in Hollywood. If Renner’s character achieves anywhere near the popularity that Damon’s did, producers will have the possibility of squeezing another trilogy’s worth of films out of the Bourne franchise.
Just as in the case of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, which he recently announced will be split into three films (not bad from one book), the Twilight saga, which turned four books into five films, and this summer’s reboot of the Spiderman character, it seems like producers will do whatever they can to churn out films without having to expend too much creative energy.
The fact that producers are returning to the Bourne series expecting another hit raises an interesting question, though: what is it about the Bourne films that continues to draw viewers even when the titular character is absent? With the Spiderman and Superman reboots, it’s easy to see the appeal; these characters are popular heroes in the American cultural consciousness, and moviegoers will turn out to see a different take on someone they’ve known and loved for years.
Though the Bourne franchise will still bear the name of the character that made it a phenomenon, its ability to continue without him means that there’s something drawing viewers other than the man himself. This new film will take place during the second and third Bourne films, so one could say that the appeal all about the universe that has been created. It’s a universe of twists and turns, of intelligent action movies that required moviegoers to think. The Bourne universe combined the Cold War intrigue of the first 1980 novel with the paranoia and fear of the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (the first film premiered in 2002) to reflect a world in which you could never be sure who you were and who to trust.
Another Bourne film isn’t necessary. The inevitable sequels to this reboot really aren’t necessary. Perhaps, though, necessity isn’t important, but relevance is. As our online personas continue to consume our lives, the question of identity becomes more important than ever. In a world with WikiLeaks, the idea of nefarious CIA projects like the one that created Bourne becomes increasingly believable. It may be lazy filmmaking to return to an established universe rather than creating your own, but there’s something about our universe that keeps fans flocking to Bourne’s.