Matt Damon is reportedly returning to play Jason Bourne. Here are 5 reasons he shouldn’t.
The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum are not just some of the best action films ever made; if you ask me they are some of the best films of any genre ever made. They are smart, disciplined and engrossing, and they are still one of best attempts at cinema which engages with the murky side of the War on Terror. So you could be forgiven for assuming that the rumour that Matt Damon will once again play the titular amnesiac assassin would be welcome.
While Holywood has of late developed a knack for taking apparently exhausted franchises and finding new life in them, I sadly don’t expect this to happen to the Bourne franchise. The most obvious reason to think this was how staggeringly mediocre the Legacy – the fourth film tagged onto the trilogy – was. Now you could argue that was a) just a fluke or b) an illustration of the folly of trying to make a Bourne film with no Jason Bourne, I think there are good reasons to think that adding to the original trilogy will not end well.
1. The films had a very clear (and now completed) arc
Beneath all the shaky cam, parkour and killing people with pens; the Bourne films had a very human narrative arc. When at the start of the Identity we first encounter Jason Bourne on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean, he has absolutely no recollection of who he is. By the end of the Ultimatum he has looked into the eyes of the man who effected his transformation from ordinary soldier to superior assassin and told him “I remember.” Bourne’s very literal identity crisis was the motor of the films and by the close of the trilogy it had been fittingly resolved. Further films are superfluous.
Worse than that new films risk undoing that resolution and thereby mucks up the thematic coherence of the trilogy. This has already happen with the Legacy. If you watch the first three films, you see a man triumph over the machine that first tried to control and then destroy him. However, to create perils for its new characters to face, the Legacy had to undo that triumph and reveal that Bourne hadn’t after all overcome the CIA’s sinister programs.
2. It is not the kind of fictional universe that benefits from being stretched
The Bourne films were always more about tautness and efficiency than grandiosity. If you were to begin binge watching the Bourne trilogy at the same time that a friend (with much less discerning taste in films) started marathoning Lord of the Rings; provided you skipped four minutes of credits you could go back and watch it all over again and still finish at the same time they did.
The Bourne films have just as much of everything as they need and no more. This is a great strength if they are taken on their own terms. However, it becomes a problem if you are trying to find extra material for new films. If something is very tight, it will tear if you stretch it.
This became apparent in the Legacy. Its attempt to broaden the world led to it making the mistake of investigating the origins of the treadstone assassins and it turned out mystery was more interesting than genetic mumbo jumbo. Four films in the revelation of yet another CIA program to produce superspies seemed silly rather than shocking. In fact, it so struggled to find new material that a chunk of its runtime was just recycled footage from the Ultimatum.
The take away from this is that no every franchise can be Marvel. If you can draw on an incomprehensibly vast science fiction universe based on tens of thousands of comics finding material for nine films is rather easier than if you have a few Robert Ludlum novels which you departed from the plot of at the start of your second film. Of course, you can just invent new stuff – and that’s what the Bourne films have been doing for pretty much their whole run – but at a certain point the question has to be asked if there is any good reason to just create a whole new series; other of course than studio executives’ desire to put the word ‘Bourne’ on the poster.
3. The success of the originals was always about more than Damon
Giving character to a man with no identity is clearly a challenge. And had Damon not pulled it off, there would have been a void at the heart of these films. It is proof that despite his occasional lapses in judgement in choosing films that he’s a seriously talented actor.
Nonetheless, had a good lead actor been enough to make a good film. If it had been then casting Jeremy Renner in The Legacy would have ensured its success.
However, films are a team effort and the success of the original trilogy relied on a lot of people. Obviously, directors Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman but also writer Tony Gilroy, composer Jonathan Powell, the supporting cast especially Joan Allen and loads of people I don’t realise exist. Therefore bringing back Damon won’t recapture what was special about the first three films.
Damon directed by Paul Greengrass is quite a different proposition from Damon directed by someone who’s made some Fast and Furious films as Bourne 5 will potentially be.
4. Universal clearly has no idea what to do with the franchise
Not only was The Legacy a mess (and worse than that a cynical mess) but roping Damon back in feels desperate. Lin feels like an odd choice to direct Bourne 5. It just doesn’t feel like there is anyone who is guiding it properly.
5. The Bourne legacy (ahem!) lives on in other films
When the Bourne Identity first came along it was a real a novelty. It and especially the Greengrass directed sequels demonstrated that just because a film was part of a franchise didn’t stop it being excellent.
And other franchises have taken that lesson to heart. Most obviously the Bond films have changed massively in response to the Bourne films. The last Bond film made before The Identity featured an invisible car. Now, it has a gritty and believable tone with a director and star every bit the match for Greengrass and Damon. And it’s not stopped there; when I reviewed of all things Captain America 2, I couldn’t help noticing the Bourne influence and it was all the better for it.
These films are far more fitting successors to the Bourne trilogy than the Legacy and whatever Universal cook up in Bourne 5.
 I am assuming here that your hypothetical friend is watching the extended editions of Lord of the Rings. But even if they watched the original theatrical runtime versions they’d still be watching the Two Towers when you finished.