Jason Bourne was the exception this summer. It was another sequel/franchise revamp, to be sure. But regarding live-action and big-budget offerings this season, it is nearly alone (save Captain America: Civil War) in that it left its respective franchise in a somewhat healthier place as opposed to either killing it dead or leaving it in need of medical care. Universal/Comcast Corp. bet that audiences craved more of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne/David Webb and more Bourne films helmed by Paul Greengrass, and they seem to be right.
A $110 million global debut weekend, on a $120m budget (an important qualifier), appears to indicate that Universal’s action franchise has been “rebourne.” At that budget, they can make a few more of these if they so choose. The franchise had been gone a long time, so they got away withThe Bourne Clip Show thanks to audience loyalty. Well, if Universal wants a few more of these, the next time out this franchise needs to do something, anything, different than what it has done before.
Back in 2007, I seemed to be the only one who noticed/cared that The Bourne Ultimatum was a glorified remake of The Bourne Supremacy. Plenty of critics noticed this time that Jason Bourne was the same movie they had seen in 2004 and again in 2007. We can argue all three original Bourne movies were variations on the same film (Bourne runs from a deceitful government, is hunted by an assassin, gets into a car chase, etc.), but Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity at least looks and feels like a different film from its successors.
Like some franchises (Star Trek, Saw, etc.), it is the second film that set the template for the franchise while the initial installment feels almost like an outlier. And those three films had a coherent narrative arc (Bourne discovers who he is, Bourne comes to terms with who he is, and then Bourne discovers how he came to be). This fourth film merely adds new wrinkles to the “how he came to be” story, which is why it feels so redundant.
But point being, we’ve now had four films with Matt Damon trying to piece together clues from his past and being pursued by diabolical government agents while only saving the day when it suits his selfish interests. As much as I disliked Jeremy Renner’s The Bourne Legacy (Chems!), it at least had some new tricks up its storytelling sleeves. This franchise has indeed been granted a new lease on life. The next one needs to be something other than a remake of that 2004 trendsetter.
Think, for example, Jason Bourne/David Webb willingly working for the government on a genuinely moral covert mission (while dealing with moral compromises that occur even in “good” missions) or Bourne being captured or compromised and the various CIA office folks having to use all of their technology to save his hide. I’m not the filmmaker, so it’s not my place to make artistic decisions. But those are just a few random ways that Bourne 6 could be significantly different from Bourne 2, Bourne 3, and Bourne 5.
This new film was yet another revamp of The Bourne Supremacy, complete with absurd revelations to justify going through the same plot as last time, revelations which not only turned Bourne into a proverbial “Chosen One” but negated the whole moral underpinnings of the entire franchise. Ironically, Bourne Legacy undid the moral victory of The Bourne Ultimatum as well, but there’s a reason no one mentions that picture this time around. Will Bourne 6 mention this film beyond Alicia Vikander’s character possibly returning?
While the movie’s financial success has left it in a state of relative health, it desperately needs a new jolt in the narrative departments. Unless it crashes hard in America and doesn’t open in the rest of its international markets, Universal has indeed revived one of their core action franchises. But if they want to keep it alive for a while, they desperately need to teach Jason Bourne some new tricks. To paraphrase another Tommy Lee Jones action franchise from a lifetime ago, it’s time for Bourne to stop running.