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As the filmmakers of the Bourne franchise pondered the next chapter in the series, they faced a conundrum: At the end of ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’, the protagonist had been involved in a shootout in London’s Waterloo Station and then an even more high-profile car chase gunfight through the streets of New York City.
Jason Bourne had gone public in a big way. He was poised to expose the U.S. government for its litany of crimes when he vanished. Producer Frank Marshall explains the hurdle: “The challenge was ‘Where are we going to go now?’ Jason Bourne knew who he was, didn’t want to be in the same business anymore and wanted to go off on his own. We had to create a new set of circumstances for the story to go forward.”
Despite the hesitancy, Patrick Crowley, who, alongside Marshall, produced the three previous entries in the series, admits that it was the fans’ interest in additional stories that kept the franchise alive. “We touched a nerve with people who would come up to us and say, ‘I like those movies so much. I hope you’re going to be doing another one,’” offers Crowley. “If you’ve done three of them and then people want to see a fourth, you’ve done something right.”
In April 2010, several months after Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon opted not to participate in this chapter of the series, producers Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith met with the franchise’s narrative architect, Tony Gilroy, and asked him if he might spend some time thinking about how to move forward. Gilroy was intrigued and agreed to see if he could find an exciting way to continue this world that he had helped to create—one that had launched a new kind of spy thriller.
Several weeks later, Gilroy came back to the producers with a concept for how to approach the material. He notes: “The thing that separated Bourne most clearly from the action films of the moment was the depth and complexity of the character’s problem. The idea of an assassin ‘coming to’ with no recollection of his dark past and paying the price for recovering his memory by realizing that he’s not the person he wants to be was an incredibly compelling motor. In the hands of an actor like Matt Damon, there was no limit on how honest and detailed those ideas could be expressed.
“It was fun to think of ways to stage the Legacy story, but until there was a new character with a new problem that felt as powerful there wasn’t going to be a script. When that last piece fell into place—when Aaron Cross came into focus—when the thing that he needed became as clear and soulful to me as what we’d gone after with Bourne, that’s when everyone decided it made sense to move forward.”