News that Universal had
Rumours spun wildly through the production of the underrated Green Zone (mis-sold as a quasi-Bourne IV thanks to a startling lack of faith from the marketing department) that another Bourne film was imminent, that Renner was a stop-gap, that there were more stories to be told. As has been pointed out this morning in the social media fallout it seemed (cinema) Jason Bourne’s story ended with the name David Webb, but Legacy proved there are many more chapters to this story. So, why were Universal so set on the reunion?
If you’re a box-office watcher then you’ll know that 2012’s Legacy made $50m more than Identity (released ten years ago, kickstarted the movie series and making an action hero out of Matt Damon) but fell short of the other two Bourne instalments. Crucially Legacy was the only film to make more money overseas, beating the domestic haul by the same $50m mark it outstripped it’s earliest ancestor. Clearly Damon sells, and sells big in the US. In reuniting the actor and Greengrass they are surely expecting to return to the $400m+ bonanza days of Ultimatum and who can blame them?
Reaction to the news fell predictably into two camps: a wave of cautious optimism or a chiding of Hollywood for clinging to a franchise adrift and anchoring its star and director (who, let’s face, could be doing other, far more interesting, projects) in an attempt to bring the ship back to sea. Cautious optimism, it seems, is enough. Franchise not working? Rewind, replay, reboot. Emotional muscle memory is a powerful tool for studios to rely on, and it is not a surprise to see it wielded again. No wonder people accepted the premise of Edge of Tomorrow (one of very few non-sequels to light up the box office this summer) so readily.
Like the Bourne series fellow book-based actioners Jacks Ryan and Reacher attracted A-list talent for their leading men in the hope that lucrative franchises would spin off in their wake. In both cases it was not to be, and this begs the question: With all that talent (director, star, writer, source material) how do these films fail? Unrealistic expectations perhaps? Or an audience whose wits have been dulled to the point where only the familiar is welcome? As always the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Taken is a great example of a surprise hit strongarmed into the franchise factory and stretched paper thin in its sequel. Liam Neeson’s one man action hero franchise has spawned an array of potential simulacra (The Grey, Unknown, Non-Stop and so on and so on), with each studio’s eye on the long game. Neeson himself told us in an interview, ‘With the success of the Taken franchise Hollywood started seeing me in a different light, sending me quite a few action movies…and if the main character is 35, the rewrite comes back…[make him] 52.’ Projecting far into the future means taking your eye from what it happening now, but who cares when one of your ten possibilities defies logic and succeeds?
The reinvention of the modern action hero is a curious phenomenon prevalent as we enter a post-post-modern Hollywood. Bulldozing past the parodic we see a celebration of the best (and the worst) of cliched cinema reinventing itself on our big screens. Nostalgia played a big part in getting The Expendables into the public consciousness, once there it refused to play up to its ridiculous foundations. This ran hand in hand with the Crystal Skull debacle, a revisitation rather than a reimagining or reboot which failed to recapture the magic. While we wait to catch up with Han Solo in Episode VII the thought we should be focusing on is whether or not there is more to these stories.
What does it mean? For film fans it offers the chance to rejoin a familiar character in a situation not too far removed from the others they’ve enjoyed, for the studios it means an easy sell (Look! Remember how much you liked that other one – here’s a new one just like it!), for the star and director it surely means a handsome payday. Ultimately the answer comes down to money, and the warm comfort of a sure thing. So, the argument comes – who loses? As a potential member of the audience for this film are you asking yourself when you can see this, rather than why?
Over to you.