Matt Damon's Jason Bourne Is Hollywood's Jason Todd

07 Oct 2014 16:50
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Jason Bourne is back! That was the big news coming out of Hollywood last week, as it was reported via the major trades that director Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon are allegedly returning to their flagship franchise for a new installment of the Robert Ludlum-based spy series (which Latino Review also noted way back in June). The other wrinkle, which dropped from The Hollywood Reporter, is that Universal ( Comcast Corporation) plans to basically make two concurrent Bourne adventures, one starring Matt Damon and written and directed by Paul Greengrass and the other starring Jeremy Renner and directed by Justin Lin in a follow-up to 2012′s spin-off The Bourne Legacy. At best, the new Matt Damon-as-Bourne film will arrive in theaters sometime in 2016, which will have made it nine years since The Bourne Ultimatum. That's great news for fans of the franchise I suppose, but it's a classic example of a clearly concluded cinematic series that is being brought back from the dead because… brand awareness. As we sit and ponder why young people are going to the movies in less numbers than their older counterparts, maybe we should notice how must time we spend pumping up the would-be return of decades-old franchises rather than giving them their own iconic properties. Hollywood is obsessed with bringing Barry Allen and Jason Todd back from the dead.
In brief, Barry Allen was the comic book version of The Flash from 1956 until 1985, when he sacrificed himself to save the world and was replaced as The Flash by his nephew Wally West. In 2008, he was arbitrarily resurrected in the comic titles and reappointed as the new "main" Flash. Said resurrection, along with the resurrection of Jason Todd (the second Robin who was revived 14 years after comic book readers voted to kill him via telephone polling) or Hal Jordan (one of the more popular Green Lanterns who was both revived and retroactively cleared of all wrongdoing several years after his epic downfall) among others, was not meant to thrill and delight younger comic book readers, ones who were growing up with Tim Drake as Robin and Wally West as The Flash or ones young enough to merely getting into comic books for the first time. They were meant to inspire nostalgia and fan-approval from comic book readers in their twenties and thirties (or older) who were already reading the books. Such is the case with the reboot-obsessed film industry. They are obsessed with keeping franchises alive past their natural expiration date or offering sequels and rebooting franchises that the kids of yesterday, or maybe the day before yesterday, grew up on. Hollywood frets about the kids of today forsaking cinemas for their smart phones and X-Boxes, yet seem dead set on serving them yesterday's heroes.
We see this in the constant attempts to resurrect the careers of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. We see this in the deluge of threatened continuations of 80′s franchises like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and Ghostbusters and reboots of 90′s franchises like I Know What You Did Last Summerand Stargate. We see this as Hollywood frets about the lack of new movie stars and then serves star vehicles for the same movie stars who have been famous for thirty years. I was a pre-teen when Kevin Costner was at his peak as an action hero and romantic lead/sports professional. Do today's preteens really have an interest in seeing Kevin Costner 25-years later still killing bad guys and dealing with sports-related melodrama? You could argue that films like Larry Crowne, Three Days to Kill, or the ongoing Bourne filmsare intended for older audiences who still enjoy the cinematic exploits of yesterday's movie stars, but the majority of these films are rated PG-13 or PG, implying that they are on some level targeting younger moviegoers. Hollywood refuses to make old-school star vehicles for potential new movie stars and then frets when the younger generation doesn't thrill to their parents' favorite screen icons.
Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity saved Matt Damon's post- Good Will Hunting career and arguably gave America precisely the morally-ambiguous spy franchise it needed after 9/11. Paul Greengrass's The Bourne Supremacy basically revolutionized action film making by combining "shaky cam" documentary-style editing with 1970′s-style paranoid cynicism, and it is perhaps the most influential genre film of the 2000′s. But The Bourne Ultimatum was seven years ago, and it will be close to ten years since the original trilogy came to a relatively fitting end when this new chapter drops into theaters. Moreover, by potentially sidelining the newer Jeremy Renner spin-off franchise (which for the record I'm not remotely a fan of) and potentially angering the participants (Renner and directed Justin Lin) for the sake of this Jason Bourne sequel, Universal runs the risk of sabotaging a newer franchise (and their relationship with Mr. Lin, who revitalized Fast/Furious into their biggest ongoing series) for the sake of a Matt Damon/Paul Greengrass sequel that may-well only lead to one new installment before both parties move onto other things. Obviously if both films end up happening and Universal is able to play out some kind of connected universe gimmick, then more power to them.
From a short term standpoint, it's understandable that Universal would want Jason Bourne to return. Universal does not have a ton of franchises at the moment, especially with Fast & Furious 7 possibly (pure speculation here) being the series finale following the death of Paul Walker. Jurassic World may kick-start the Jurassic Park franchise back to life (and if I seem more optimistic about that it's because it actually has a terrific and thoughtful premise behind it) and the Legendary monster movies coming down the pike are of course a huge question mark. The first three Bourne films earned $214 million worldwide, $288m, and $442m respectively, while the Damon-less Bourne Legacy earned "just" $276m worldwide despite costing more to produce ($125m) than the previous installments. It stands to reason that just putting Matt Damon back into the story would goose the grosses back towards that $442m number earned by The Bourne Ultimatum back in 2007, especially when factoring in inflation and the expanded overseas market. I certainly can't fault Universal or any major studio for turning down or walking away from a franchise installment that will likely earn them a decent chunk of money.
But having said all of that, The Bourne Identity made a splash back in 2002 precisely because it was so different from the then-routine James Bond franchise, and it resonated in an explicitly timely manner precisely because it was (to paraphrase a line that has now become cliché) the franchise we needed and deserved at just that moment. Even xXx opened with $44 million in August of 2002, bigger than any 007 debut at the time. The Vin Diesel-starring " James Bond for the extreme sports era" adventure grossed $277m on a $70m budget (including $142m domestic, again larger than any 007 film until Die Another Day later that year) partially because it too was something different from the norm and something explicitly "new" in the genre. Moreover, the would-be movie fans who grew up on the original Bourne films are not teenagers or college kids anymore but rather adults with jobs, spouses, and kids. Will they be as willing to watch Matt Damon pop back up on the grid now that they have to shell out babysitter money and precious "date night" time? And what of the would-be young moviegoers of today? Will the thrilling exploits of Jason Bourne confronting the various sins of the Obama presidency (drone warfare, unlimited surveillance, extrajudicial executions, etc.) be of much appeal to the kids of today who at best caught the series on television when they can see the same issues being hashed out in Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Star Trek Into Darkness?
That's the challenge of course, for Universal to make Jason Bourne relevant again not just to older audiences who thrilled to his exploits as kids but also to today's kids. Obviously James Bond has gone through his periods of irrelevancy and bounced back each time. But the great loss, which is the great loss in general when it comes to franchise rebooting, is that Hollywood spends their time and money on a new Bourne and thus misses the chance to give us the next Bourne. And in chasing yesterday's heroes and yesterday's movie stars, we are all-but-daring the kids of today to forsake mainstream theatrical movie-going for the "here and now" allure of YouTube celebrities, video games, and whatever else "them kids" are into today. The relentless desire to revive Bourne shows a certain lack of the kind of courage that gave us The Bourne Identity in the first place.
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