Earlier this week, USA Network officially premiered its newest action-drama series, Treadstone, which operates inside the world of Robert Ludlum's Bourne saga. When it comes to the future of the Bourne franchise, this TV show raises an important question: does Matt Damon need to be involved for this series to flourish?
Admittedly, it's a tougher question than one might think, especially when you take 2016's Jason Bourne into account. Nevertheless, it the property is itching to make a splash with the public, and there are talks to make a film based around this newly-premiered show. Does the Bourne series need its title character to be a major hit? Can it be branched out with other A-list actors, a la the Bond series, to become a product of each new generation? Or does it depend entirely on Matt Damon to be successful?
Audiences are likely hungry for more Bourne, and in a bigger way than just that stunt show based on the popular Bourne series that's coming to Universal. So let's break things down and see whether or not Damon is crucial to the prosperity of this popular property.
It's The Role That Turned Matt Damon Into A Superstar
Granted, Matt Damon wasn't a no-name when he signed on to 2002's The Bourne Identity. He was an Academy Award-winning screenwriter for his work on 1997's Good Will Hunting, and had a string of popular hits such as Saving Private Ryan, Rounders, Dogma, and Ocean's Eleven, to name a mere few. But even though he was an established dramatic actor, Damon was by no means a proven action star, and his name didn't ensure a film's blockbuster status.
When The Bourne Identity sprinted into theaters, however, Matt Damon was proven a bonafide A-lister, even in genre movies outside his wheelhouse. He proved himself as a dependable lead, which propelled the next few films in the franchise to achieve similar success. The sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, were even bigger critical and commercial hits, upping the ante for Damon's skills (and those of director Paul Greengrass). Audiences love seeing Damon in this role, and Bourne remains a draw, even while the star's other projects sometimes falter.
Matt Damon Isn't Getting Any Younger, Folks ...
Matt Damon was definitely in phenomenal shape for 2016's Jason Bourne, especially for someone over 45. But he turns 50 in 2020, so being an action superstar might not be the best way to keep his Hollywood legacy going. Particularly with a film series that involves as many dangerous stunts, hyper-intense martial arts, and extreme peril as the Bourne series. Without a cast change, Jason Bourne might not be able to fight bad guys for many more years without getting seriously injured.
There generally comes a point when actors simply can't do action sequences without increased output from special effects and stunt coordinators. Similar to Indiana Jones and even the Bond series, the question becomes whether it's time to retire a specific version of a character and move on to something else. While the producers and studio heads would probably love to incorporate Matt Damon into as many Bourne films as possible, one must be realistic about how the actor wants to spend the next years of his life.
Attempts To Revive The Bourne Series Without Matt Damon Haven't Been Entirely Successful
Certainly, Universal Studios has explored options when it comes to Jason Bourne. Knowing that Matt Damon isn't guaranteed to come back for any future installments, execs and producers know that other actors will need to be hired to keep the series going, possibly with different characters. Unfortunately, the largest previous attempt to divert away from Damon's Bourne, the Jeremy Renner-starring The Bourne Legacy, wasn't nearly as successful, though it also wasn't a total failure.
Centering on Jeremy Renner's Aaron Cross, The Bourne Legacy did decent box office and earned some favorable reviews, though the public's general response was mixed. Comparisons to the original three movies were inevitable, and some viewers found it to be an inferior spinoff with a muddled plotline that didn't have the same draw of the previous installments. Suffice to say, there is a Damon-shaped reason they opted to make Jason Bourne instead of a Bourne Legacy sequel, and while it's still too early to determine how Treadstone will fare, the similarly mixed reviews could spell trouble.
2016's Jason Bourne Proved Matt Damon's Involvement Doesn't Guarantee Success (At Least, Critically)
Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass' return to the Bourne franchise earned a tremendous sigh of relief from fans. The Bourne Legacy, while not completely dismissed upon release, definitely felt like an effort to pass the reins in the absence of Damon and Greengrass. In hindsight, though, it's safe to say that even Jason Bourne wasn't entirely a return-to-form for anyone involved, and the response to the new film was divisive.
Criticisms weren't as favorable for this sequel, at least when compared to the acclaimed The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, and the fan response was also notably more muted. Even though people don't mention this sequel as much as its predecessors, it was still a hit — if not quite as successful as Ultimatum – and proved that there's still an audience for future Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon. Of course, the dip in quality dims any guarantees that future installments will match the early films' heights.
Matt Damon's Approach To The Material Is What Made The Franchise Great To Begin With
In another world, the Bourne franchise might have been little more than a subpar James Bond ripoff. The source material itself, while beloved, is often considered airplane fodder as opposed to great works of literature, and it was not guaranteed that The Bourne Identity would become a major movie IP. Yet, it was largely the intelligence and nuance that Matt Damon and his filmmakers brought to the material that made it exceptional. Thanks to their careful, thoughtful approach, it became a big success.
The first three Bourne movies' sense of hyper-realism, and attention to character development, are crucial to why they became so successful. In addition to all those exceptional action sequences and grounded aesthetics, a great deal of intelligence and care brought by Matt Damon, both as an actor and producer that showed. Along with the other talented producers, Damon wanted to make something exceptional with this material that combined brainy storytelling with thrilling action, and created a solid foundation on which the future sequels were built.
Much Like James Bond, You Don't Need The Same Actor To Play The Part
At the end of the day, there's always room for reboots in Hollywood. The Bourne franchise could always start up anew if it needed to, considering its main character starts off as a mostly blank slate. Other hot, up-and-coming actors are no doubt available to fill the role if Matt Damon is unwilling or unable to keep the spark burning. It's the main reason why James Bond has continued for over 50 years, even with some new additions not working as well as others.
Would a rebooted Bourne franchise have the same appeal? It's hard to say for sure. People currently only think of one actor when Jason Bourne comes up, so it might be hard to accustom the public into immediately accepting another actor in the role. But there was once a time when people thought only Sean Connery could do justice to the role of James Bond, or that only Michael Keaton could play Batman. Those were fairly short-lived notions, so maybe that could be the case for Bourne if casting changes are necessary.
You Can Only Do So Much With Jason Bourne's Character Before It Grows Stale
Speaking of reboots, there's also the overarching question of whether it's worth rebooting The Bourne Identity as is. Jason Bourne was a well-defined lead in those tightly-wound first three movies because there was a satisfying arc, and the films didn't rely on too many gimmicks. They're definitely more plot-driven than the average spy flick, so one wonders if it's possible to make another Jason Bourne movie without the story growing overly repetitious. Beyond Damon's involvement, would people want this scenario told yet again?
On the one hand, movie fans do love origin stories of all flavors, and there are universally beloved actors and actresses out there who could win audiences over, even if Matt Damon's name remained associated with the franchise. On the other hand, it's hard to tell if people are even clamoring for another Jason Bourne movie, with or without Damon. Universal is obviously game to keep the franchise going with Treadstone and the theme park attraction, but the fans might need to speak up about what they want here.
Ultimately, there are many reasons to believe that the Bourne franchise could continue successfully with Matt Damon at the forefront. The actor is getting older, and his interest in the franchise seems to have waned significantly, but the franchise's overall success speaks to its continued appeal. Plus, investing in a new plan with a new lead would be far more of an uphill battle for Universal. But what do you guys think about it? Let us know in the poll below.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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