24
Aug 04

How do you turn a good film into a franchise? The Bourne Identity

Do You SeePost a comment • 204 views

How do you turn a good film into a franchise? The Bourne Identity was a surprise hit back in 2002, a surprise possibly because the first time it was filmed it flopped. But some assured direction from Doug Liman and some excellent casting was coupled with a post 9/11 anti-CIA feeling into big box office. Problem, The Bourne Identity does not lend itself readily to a sequel.

Oh, that did not stop Robert Ludlum, who wrote a number of Bourne books. But they threw the Bourne Identity out of the window on the making of the first film, just filching its theme, so The Bourne Supremacy (the second book) was unlikely to help too much. The film version was it its own way so satisfying because it rescued closure from the jaws of defeat. It had a happy ending which was fought for and won. There was only one way of getting Bourne back in action, and that was killing Newt.

I cannot forgive the Bourne Supremacy for killing Newt*. Motivating the action is fine, but getting rid of the viewpoint character (the normal one in a world of spies) from the first film almost destroys the The Bourne Identity. The happy ending that we willingly suspend disbelief to embrace turns out to be a fleeting (if happy) two years. And despite watching Matt Damon do his impenetrable Bourne turn, which is watchable as ever, no amount of success in his affairs will bring Newt back. And so he finishes the film, triumphant in his objective, cowed, but untamed and potentially ready for another adventure. He is not settled, he has nowhere to go and his ending may be satisfying in some ways (and morally much more ambiguous) but is certainly not happy.

The death of a character to give the lead motivation is not unusual, but it is more problematic in franchises, often used when the original motivation has run out, or a character seems superfluous. Gail Simone’s Women In Refrigerators site looks at the phenomenon in a more commonly serialised medium: comics which shows just how little imagination there often is.

*I know Franke Potente’s character is not called Newt, but frankly the way she is treated in this film she might as well be.

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