Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Bourne Franchise

By now, Jason Bourne is almost as well known as James Bond or Mission Impossible's Ethan Hunt as a staple fictional spy character. He was created by Robert Ludlum in 1980, and first appeared in The Bourne Identity.

The Bourne Identity
Theatrical Poster
In Ludlum's novel, we are introduced to a mysterious character who was found alone at sea by a group of fishermen. He lost his memory in an unknown accident and appears to possess remarkable fighting and puzzle solving skills. Later, we find that the US Government has an international warrant out for his arrest.

Director Doug Liman secured the rights for The Bourne Identity after becoming a fan of the books once he'd read them in high school. He enlisted the help of Tony Gilroy for the screenwriting. In 2002, a year after Ludlum's death, it was released on the big screen with Matt Damon cast as Jason Bourne (aiding his rise to fame from The Man That Wrote Good Will Hunting and One Of The More Famous Ones From Ocean's Eleven).

The script for Identity was the film that was closest related to the books with an almost identical beginning. With the exclusion of Bourne's nemesis Carlos the Jackal from the big screen adaptations, the first Bourne film laid down the foundations for the series becoming more political and less about the man himself than the book counterparts.

Identity opened to positive reviews and it still holds a 7.9 rating on the Internet Movie Database. It made over $20,000,000 on release and a sequel was announced a year later as a result of further success - something that no-one on the first film had really anticipated.

The Bourne Supremacy
Theatrical Poster
Due to the disagreements that Liman had had with Universal executives through the making of Identity, Paul Greengrass was signed up to direct a sequel - entitled The Bourne Supremacy. Matt Damon reprised his role as Bourne.

Once again, Tony Gilroy handled the scriptwriting. The story continued with Bourne's reappearance from hiding after an attempt on his life - Eric Van Lustbader used a similar tactic when he revitalised the books in 2004. Other than that small connection (and the shared name), the book and film versions seemed to go their own separate ways.

The Bourne Supremacy was released in the middle of 2004, grossing a similar amount to the first film. It currently holds a 7.7 rating on the Internet Movie Database. Soon afterwards, The Bourne Ultimatum was announced.

The Bourne Ultimatum
Theatrical Poster
Despite the feeling that Supremacy had not got across the message that he had intended, Tony Gilroy penned a draft for The Bourne Ultimatum. Unlike the transition from Identity to Supremacy, the move to Ultimatum was more of a flow from its predecessor with Bourne already being active, rather than having to release him once again from a settled life.

Once again, Damon played Bourne, and Ultimatum saw more of the minor characters taking a bigger role. Julia Stiles as Bourne's informant in Treadstone, Joan Allen as Pamela Landy, the unconvinced CIA Deputy Director who is unsure whether to side with Bourne and David Strathairn as the CIA deputy director who acts as the main antagonist in the film. By offering these three more screen time, the series became far more politically oriented than anything James Bond or Mission Impossible offered.

On release in 2007, Ultimatum became a rare film where a sequel was considered better than any of its predecessors - it is currently rated 8.1 on the Internet Movie Database, and it was the only one of the original trilogy to earn a prestigious 5-star rating from Empire Magazine. It also grossed far more than Identity or Supremacy, earning nearly $70,000,000 in its opening weekend alone.

The Bourne Legacy
Theatrical Poster
Despite the rumour mill going into overdrive regarding a fourth film (will Greengrass direct? Will Damon star? Will it feature Bourne at all?), it was three years after Ultimatum when it was finally announced to the world. Despite taking the Bourne name that Van Lustbader had penned for the fourth book in the series, it was announced that The Bourne Legacy was the first film in the series to not contain the series' protagonist - instead focusing on a flash sideways to the bigger picture.

On announcement of the film, it was also confirmed that Gilroy would be writing the script and also directing. Jeremy Renner (another actor on the rise following his success as Hawkeye in Thor/The Avengers) was cast to play Aaron Cross, an agent similar to those we are introduced to in Bourne who is also trying to find out exactly what "the programme" is.

Alongside Renner was Edward Norton (also following his superhero journey as The Hulk) as the political motivation and Rachel Weisz (far more famous for her older films such as The Mummy) as the scientist who is a long way out of her depth.

As a result of the flash sideways storyline, the film recycled footage from its predecessors. It also had the effect of enhancing the Bourne universe to show the bigger picture going on away from Bourne's scenes in the original trilogy. This storyline is perhaps the biggest differential from the book series which continues to feature Bourne in his struggle.

Legacy was released in August 2012,  amassing a little over half of that of Ultimatum in its opening weekend. It currently holds a 7.2 rating on the Internet Movie Database, the lowest of the series, and the critical response echoed this with a few outlets enjoying the varied storyline while others were very critical.

But where now for the Bourne franchise? Undoubtedly there is more scope to expand the Aaron Cross, and Matt Damon hasn't explicitly ruled out a return for Jason Bourne. Perhaps we will enjoy their inevitable meeting in the not too distant future.

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