Sequels Without the Stars
Who’d have thought there would be a Bourne sequel without Jason Bourne; but could there be a Hogwarts without Harry or a Tim Burton movie without Johnny Depp? Here at Movie Farm we look at sequels without the stars and how franchises can carry on existing without the leading characters that made them what they are…
When they announced a fourth installment to the Jason Bourne series the world gasped in horror when Matt Damon confirmed that he would not be part of it and that production would still go ahead. How could they make an installment to a series without the main character? Instead, with some clever alterations to the plot, they managed to set up a thrilling, albeit alternative, action sequel.
So the story is that Jason Bourne is a assassin being chased from the CIA and is suffering from extreme memory loss as to why. Through three movies, The Bourne Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum, we see Bourne chased through airports and whatnot by the CIA who, we discover, are hunting him down over a botched mission. For Bourne Legacy, writer Dan Gilroy and his brother penned a script about Aaron Cross, an agent part of Operation Outcome who risks being ‘terminated’ by the CIA following the incidents of the first three movies. Jeremy Renner was named as the ‘new Bourne’ with a trailer that stated that ‘there was never just one’.
Smart thinking; it’s extremely difficult to create a character from scratch but even harder to place them in a universe where a narrative already exists and has no prior mention of your new plot device. What you don’t realise is that dozens of films do it!
How can it work?
Quentin Tarantino is the king of character rotation and bizzare indirect sequels. He’s made his own world where characters who are loosley connected exist simultaneously within different movie spheres and are all equally likeable. Yet when you have a character that dominates the landscape of your world so hugely, like Harry Potter, there’s going to be some confused fans. J.K Rowling commented earlier this year how despite ending her best-selling series that she would love to expand the Hogwarts universe by shifting her focus to the character Neville Longbottom.
‘But Neville is boring and weedy!’ you say, yet for fans across the world they will be able to continue enjoying the story, reading about all the cool things still happening whilst Harry is quietly retired somewhere, probably sipping Rum and Coke’s with Ginny and telling punters at the bar about ‘this one time’ when he killed the Dark Lord. Some of the best Potter moments are completely non-Harry related, like those magic jelly beans for example, and there are so many characters we could follow. In fact it could work, much like Bourne, if the character was interesting enough. We imagine even J.R.R Tolkein freaked out when he had to re-write Frodo as his main protagonist and leave The Hobbit‘s Bilbo Baggins behind in Lord of The Rings but the latter is undoubtedly the better tale.
One instance where it works well is James Bond. Sure, ‘James Bond’ never actually gets omitted as a character, but many have suggested that, like Bourne, Bond is an agent codename and that the reason he seems to have survived through five decades; aside from the obvious recastings, is because they character is actually A DIFFERENT MAN. Each Bond is unique but is still the essence of a bigger, wider iconic image.
Where it wont work
However, there are a lot of issues with adopting a universe for a new character. Just look at the appalling effort that was Grease 2. Whilst comic books and fan-fiction pieces do it constantly, it is more difficult to re-sell a franchise without the actor or actress that made you your million as you have already carved your niche. Ridley Scott has been extremely bold by putting the long-suffering Ellen Ripley to one side for his Alien prequel Prometheus, where instead a very similar character named Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is the one scrambling for her life through outer space.
He is also rumoured to be ridding himself of Philip K. Dick‘s original character Rick Deckard for his Bladerunner sequel. The ending to Bladerunner had, in truth, taken the mystery out of Deckard’s persona and there was nowhere else to go; but for Sigourney Weaver‘s famous Xenomorph-killing, jumpsuit-wearing heroine, she had already been frozen intermittently for about 300 years and then cloned a bunch of times. She too, deserved retirement cocktails in her Miami condo. Without question, it takes a great director to follow the same story from a different perspective. It’s manageable but it is hard work.
Just ask George Lucas. He managed to continue his Star Wars series without his biggest characters; Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Lucas shifted his focus on to Skywalker’s origins by making Darth Vader, i.e. Anakin Skywalker, the new protagonist – which is mind-boggling considering that Lucas and his team only came up with the ‘Father’ story after A New Hope was completed. The prequel trilogy was undoubtedly a flop but, nonetheless, it also proved that the world he created was far too precious and impressive to forget and would carry on without Luke.
Unfortunately, this might be an extremely risky move with anything like Batman. Nolan’s final installment The Dark Knight Rises made suggestion that somebody else would be left with the responsibility of becoming the caped crusader when Bruce Wayne decides he’s had enough; after all, it happens in several novelisations, but what if people didn’t like this Batman? What if Gotham decided it wanted a NEW hero? Who wasn’t Batman? It would just be ridiculous. Likewise with Indiana Jones, or Rocky Balboa. You’re taking away the main attraction; the charisma, the thing we have grown to love and know throughout the series. As an audience we crave the familiar.
Bourne fans will feel that Renner has a lot to prove and many will be waiting with baited-breath inside the cinema but, as long as audiences are able to realise that the film and the character are different entities altogether, which just happen to be moving simultaneously with the original plot, then it will be much easier for everyone to just kick back and enjoy. It’s a comparison which will be obvious but one that we can do without. And if we’re very lucky we only might have to wait a few more years for a Potter versus Bourne crossover.
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