The newest chapter in Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy, will arrive in theaters Aug. 10, bringing with it a new agent, a new government conspiracy and, despite some overt science-fiction touches, the same sense of realism that pervaded the first three films.
"I think this is sort of the 2.0 version of the agent that we started with back 12 years ago," producer Frank Marshall said, speaking along with co-producers Patrick Crowley and Ben Smith to a gathering of journalists.
The Bourne Legacy stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a scientifically enhanced super-agent from Outcome, a Department of Defense program nearly identical to Treadstone, the CIA initiative that created Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Set during the events of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, public knowledge of Bourne leads the DOD and Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) to burn the program and all involved with it. The lone surviving agent, Cross teams up with Outcome scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) and goes on the run, staying one step ahead of Byer in a global game of cat and mouse.
While one of the biggest additions to the film universe is the concept of gene-altering medication the Outcome agents rely on, Marshall and Crowley said that the pieces for everything introduced in the new film exist in the previous three installments.
"I wouldn't say it's science fiction,” Marshall said. “I think there's a lot of manipulation going on today with genes and that science. Certainly, what we found on all these movies is we put something out there that we're sort of testing and kind of creating and it already exists.”
"When you go back into some of the things that we were thinking about even in Bourne Identity, there's points which the Jason Bourne character is going, 'I get these headaches,’” Crowley added. “As you know, there's also a line in the movie where they go, 'He's three years off of meds.’ There was also, in Bourne Identity and from the very beginning, there was some indication that the Treadstone agents were being given that at that time, so it's not a completely new idea."
Calling the movie a "same time-quel" rather than a sequel, the producers emphasized that Legacy doesn’t negate what’s come before but is simply a new piece of the Bourne universe.
"There was a misconception that Jeremy was replacing Matt, and that was one thing we wanted to make very clear,” Crowley said, “that they're different agents and Bourne is still out there and Aaron Cross has now come in and who know what happens next.”
"Even back in Supremacy, Tony [Gilroy, Legacy director and Bourne series screenwriter] had this intense obsession with the American intelligence community, and he literally said there's Treadstone but, in his mind and in the research he's done, there are a whole lot of parallel agencies that Department of Defense has got one, National Security's got one, each one of the services has something, so it actually is the way these organizations are structured," Marshall said.
Smith, who runs Captivate Entertainment and controls the properties of Bourne creator Robert Ludlum, said the real-world growth of covert operations since 9/11 and recent revelations like President Obama’s terrorist “kill list” demonstrate how dead-on the late author’s view of the American espionage industry was, even in the 1980s when he began writing his novels.
"One of the exciting things about working with the estate of Ludlum was he was very keyed into what was happening in kind of the global political world and in the world of espionage, so with all of the revelations that almost happen every few months, it confirms all of these things that were considered conspiracies a few years ago," Smith said. "I remember being at Langley a couple of years ago, researching for another project when the information came out that the CIA did have groups that did assassinations; that was something that comes out of the books of Ludlum. It's informative and many times the best art and the best fiction informs us about the world we live in."
All three producers had nothing but praise for Legacy star Renner, playing another secret agent after his turn as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Hawkeye in The Avengers earlier this year and Agent William Brandt from last year's Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol.
"We looked at a number of people when we first started out, and I think we kept coming back to Jeremy,” Marshall said. “There's an accessibility to him, there's a vulnerability to him, which maybe a more polished actor might not communicate to the audience.”
Describing Renner as a "movie athlete," Crowley and Marshall also said Renner was perfect for the role, as he was intimately acquainted with stunt work and physical training.
"His physicality made a huge difference to us because that allowed us to put him in situations in which you can see him fight or ride a motorcycle that with other people you would have to do green screen or face replacement," Marshall said.
"Jeremy was also a prototype ideal choice,” Smith added. “I was thrilled when he was as excited to be involved in this as we were to have him, because the most important part of creating a new trajectory with the franchise and having a new character was, who was the actor who is going to embody it.”
Because Legacy widens the scope of the Bourne universe by revealing at least a second program creating super-spies, the producers said they believe future of the franchise, and any subsequent Legacy sequels, is anybody's game.
"We're going to follow Jeremy's character, but everything else is wide open,” Crowley said. “That's the great thing about where we are now, the table is set to go any direction we want to, but we will, I'm sure, follow Jeremy and Rachel and see what happens.”
Smith also told reporters that while there were initial talks with Damon about having Jason Bourne show up for another movie, the reason the creative team went in a different direction with Renner was not a negative reflection of Damon or the stories they wanted to tell with Bourne.
"It broke down for a number of reasons,” Smith said. “The issue of there not being a story there -- the character of Jason Bourne and how Matt portrayed Jason Bourne is too rich and fantastic, and it was never an issue that there was not another story.”
While Ludlum only wrote three Bourne novels, Smith said the Ludlum estate is looking into other forms of media for the property, including more video games. They’re also casting The Osterman Weekend, an adaptation of another Ludlum spy novel.
However, all three producers concluded that their hearts were firmly set in the Bourne universe at the moment, and there was never any hesitation to continue the story established in the original film trilogy.
"I'd been involved with different aspects of this franchise since before probably 14 years before it came to Universal, and the sandbox that Ludlum and all the filmmakers created on the movies is too rich and immersive to not figure out how to continue," Smith said. "To be honest with you, there was never a doubt in my mind, ever."