When it was announced earlier this year that James Wan would be taking the reins for the seventh Fast & Furious film the focus was understandably on Wan’s move from micro-budgeted and highly profitable horror films to the blockbuster world of Universal’s biggest franchise. Fast & Furious 6 cost $160 million to produce, while the most expensive of Wan’s films (The Conjuring) topped off at only $20m.
The unasked question, at least at the time, was where Justin Lin would go next. As the director of the last four films in the series, Lin has injected nearly $2 billion into Universal’s coffers over the past seven years. He’s been loosely attached to a handful of projects since then for both film and television, but none have seemed very solid or calculated. Until now anyway.
Per Deadline, Universal has set Lin to direct and hopefully rejuvenate one of their other franchises. That’s right. We’re getting another Bourne-less Bourne film.
You’d be forgiven for wondering why The Bourne Legacy appears to be moving forward with a sequel when no one you know acknowledges liking the damn thing, and the numbers would seem to support that anecdotal evidence. It was the lowest grossing of the series domestically despite being the most recent, the most expensive, and having opened on the most screens. At twice the budget of The Bourne Identity it only managed to outgross that first film by $60m worldwide.
While technically the fourth film in the franchise, Legacy is more of a sideways sequel thanks to the absence of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). He’s spoken about of course, but he’s not actually in the film and is instead replaced by a new agent named Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). That won’t be changing in The Bourne Minimum (not the real title), at least not in the direction fans would like. Bourne will probably be discussed far less in the fifth film, especially since Damon has said he’d return only with Paul Greengrass at the helm.
So what exactly does Universal think Lin can do for the Bourne films?
His only other feature directorial efforts are three earlier and far smaller films, a mix of dramas and comedy that collectively made about $21m. The well-regarded Better Off Tomorrow is included here, but none of these are the reason why he’s being tasked with resurrecting the Bourne films.
As is often the case in Hollywood, the answer can be found amid the box-office receipts. Lin joined the Fast & Furious universe while it was already an increasingly profitable franchise, but he nearly brought it all to a fiery halt with a third entry that was itself a sideways sequel. Tokyo Drift has its fans of course, but the film remains the lowest grossing of the series by a healthy margin. He convinced Universal to give him another shot with 2009’s Fast and Furious which reunited the original onscreen gang and grossed four times its budget. Two years later his Fast Five made $626m worldwide, and this year his Fast & Furious 6 banked over three quarters of a billion dollars.
He accomplished this through a combination of spectacle, casting, and a mantra of fun above all else, and they’re hoping for the same thing in The Bourne Addendum (not the real title).
The stunts and action set-pieces got bigger with each installment and moved beyond fast cars to include tanks wreaking havoc on a freeway and a chase scene down a 28 mile-long runway. The last two films also brought “franchise viagra” Dwayne Johnson aboard, first as an opponent for the equally bald Dom (Vin Diesel) and then as an ally. And through it all there’s not a single visible concern that any of the action or plot turns need to be believable in the slightest.
The script for The Bourne Continuum (not the real title) has been assigned to Anthony Peckham, and you’d be right for thinking that’s a considerable step down from Tony Gilroy who wrote each of the other films (and directed Legacy). Peckham’s best known for Invictus and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and it’s that second one that probably makes him a good fit for Lin in Universal’s eyes. The film is an exercise in stylish, personable action in the guise of a mystery, a film made entertaining by its stars and director, and Lin has already shown that a script’s quality (or lack thereof) is no impediment to his visual energy.
Renner is an accidental movie star of sorts and clearly no equal to Damon’s draw, so it makes sense that Universal would be trying to move the focus away from the cerebral, angst-ridden nature of the earlier films and turning it towards more and bigger action alongside a lighter sensibility. Less dourness and more scenes of Renner skateboarding down the Hoover Dam. Fewer conspiracies and more water skiing from the back of a submarine.
If Lin can infuse the new film with a real sense of fun and excitement then it won’t need to compete with the smarts of the original trilogy. With logic and intelligence out the window in favor of CGI-assisted stunts and spectacular ridiculousness there’s a chance Lin can break it away from a dependency on Damon and Greengrass. Even if he wanted to revisit his dramatic roots and three dimensional characters he created early in his career, I just don’t think Universal would be all that interested. Cue the casting announcement that The Rock has signed on as Aaron Cross’ adversary in five, four, three…
Then again, the script isn’t written yet, the film isn’t made yet, and I could be completely off base with all of this. I always hope for the best until the end credits roll, so we’ll find out together when The Bourne Dumdum (not the real title) opens sometime in 2015.