Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 08-06-12

“The Bourne Legacy” – In theaters August 10th

“The Bourne Legacy” – In theaters August 10th

Rachel Weisz as Dr. Marta Shearing

Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid

“Bourne” reborn: Movie franchises are way too valuable for Hollywood to let them evaporate just because stars won’t continue in their roles or they’ve run out of books to adapt.

Perhaps the best example of this is the James Bond franchise that originated with 1962's “Dr. No” and will see its 23rd episode, “Skyfall,” hit multiplexes this Nov. 9. In the series' 50 year history, Bond's been played by Sean Connery (6 films), George Lazenby (1film – Lazenby turned down a seven picture deal!), Roger Moore (7 films), Timothy Dalton (2 films), Pierce Brosnan (4 films) and Daniel Craig (3 films, including "Skyfall").

Although it originally was anyone's guess as to whether moviegoers would accept someone other than Connery as 007, that turned out not to be a problem. The franchise managed to survive with various ups and downs over the years no matter who played Bond and the material was adjusted to suit the star – with Moore, for instance, there was more emphasis on Bond's charm and sophistication while Craig's Bond is more the cold blooded licensed-to-kill spy that Ian Fleming originally wrote about.

The same ability to survive change proved true, as well, in terms of the films' source material. Fleming's novels were adapted to the screen through 1987's “The Living Daylights.” But when they ran out, the franchise continued, drawing on short stories Fleming had written – including “A View to a Kill,” “For Your Eyes Only” and “Quantum of Solace” – and with original material written by others in the spirit of Fleming's work.

The latest instance of Hollywood refusing to say goodbye to a hit franchise is next weekend's launch of Universal's PG-13 rated action thriller “The Bourne Legacy,” a new take on the studio's blockbuster "Bourne" franchise.

Directed by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), the reborn "Bourne" stars Jeremy Renner (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), Rachel Weisz, and Edward Norton.

Unlike the Bond franchise, which whenever necessary simply plugged in new actors as 007 while everything else remained the same, Bourne's undergone significant changes that make it more of a spin-off than a reboot of the series. The key change is that Renner isn't playing Jason Bourne, the role Matt Damon originated in 2002's “The Bourne Identity” and played again in 2004's “The Bourne Supremacy” and 2007's “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

Bourne's literally out of the picture now and Renner's character, Aaron Cross, is fighting for his life in a Robert Ludlum-style universe of life-and-death CIA-driven action. The edge-of-your-seat action set pieces that the original franchise was known for continue here, including a motorcycle chase through the streets of Manilla that's already generating an early buzz.

Starting with "Legacy," we're no longer seeing stories created by Ludlum. The franchise's first episode, "Identity" was based on Ludlum's 1980 novel. Its sequel, "Supremacy," was based on a 1986 Ludlum novel. The third episode, "Ultimatum," was based on a 1990 Ludlum novel. The new film is inspired by Ludlum's work, but is an original screenplay by Tony Gilroy, who also directed "Legacy," and his older brother, Dan Gilroy (“The Fall”).

Looking back at the "Bourne" franchise's boxoffice success, it's no wonder Universal's working hard to keep it alive.

"Identity" opened June 14, 2002 to $27.1 million and went on to gross $121.7 million in domestic theatres and over $92 million internationally.

"Supremacy" kicked off July 23, 2004 to $52.5 million and ended up with $176.2 million domestically and over $112 million abroad.

"Ultimatum" arrived Aug. 3, 2007 with $69.3 million in domestic theatres and then did over $215 million internationally.

It wasn't easy moving ahead with a new Bourne film given that Paul Greengrass, who directed "Supremacy" and "Ultimatum" – "Identity" was directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) – didn't want to do a fourth movie and Matt Damon only wanted to return if Greengrass was directing.

"What they ultimately want is a franchise that can kind of go on and on," Damon said in a 2010 interview. "We explained to them that our character isn't like James Bond. You can't send him on a mission. There's character development, there's an arc that the character has traveled through the three movies. You don't just start over at the beginning of every movie. So I think what they're looking for is a way to build that in so that they can continue without Paul and me eventually."

Damon also made it clear that he was linked to Greengrass directing: "I love the character. I love the stories. But only if Paul Greengrass says he will direct again. So far, though, he's decided not to. I'd definitely say yes if he went for it. I know he would have a great story, and it would protect the legacy of what we created."

Bottom line: It looks like Universal will succeed in giving its Bourne franchise a new lease on life. "Legacy's" been tracking well in double digits and is doing best with 25-plus males, the core audience for action spy thrillers.