Matt Damon is fine that the Jason Bourne franchise is now bigger than just him

Matt Damon returns as superspy Jason Bourne nine years after the original trilogy

The O.J. is back. The Original Jason - or, some might say, the Only Jason - is returning this week to the cinema for the fifth movie bearing the Bourne name.

This film comes after 2012's The Bourne Legacy, which expanded the world of Bourne to include the superspy Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, but without the participation of Bourne himself.

Legacy's box-office performance in the United States was weaker than the films in the original trilogy featuring Matt Damon as Bourne. But overseas, Legacy did well, showing that Bourne is not just a person, but also a brand - and one that can sell without Damon.

Damon says he is fine with how the Bourne franchise is now bigger than just him.

"I don't mind that they build a whole universe if they want to do that. That makes sense to me," says the 45-year-old actor at a recent press event in Seoul.


However, he thinks there are limits to the artistic licence that can be taken with the Bourne brand.

"I don't know if I'd go interactive (in that universe). I don't see a world where Bourne starts teaming up with other people," he explains, nixing the idea of hero collaborations in the style of Marvel's X-Men.

But he notes that the Bourne and Marvel franchises have similarities: "The way the studio pitched it to me, way back then, was that you have the X-Men, then you spin off Wolverine. They said Jason Bourne is the reverse: You start with the Wolverine story, but build the universe."

The Central Intelligence Agency's Operation Treadstone, the black ops programme that created Bourne and other superassassins, is one covert operation among many that can be explored in other films, he says.

"It's the studio's property and they can do what they want," he says with a laugh.

Any doubts he may have harboured about reprising the role disappeared once he knew that British director Paul Greengrass, who helmed the second and third films - The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - was attached to the project.

"He's a great director and he 'gets' this franchise and there's the best chance that the new movie will fit with the other ones if it was Paul," he says.

Another factor affecting his decision to participate was how the screenplay justified the return of his character - and there had to be a good reason. In Ultimatum, the last film in what had been planned as a trilogy, Bourne had completed his quest: He had avenged himself and discovered his true identity. Ultimatum ends with him leaping from a building into New York's East River.

Damon says: "I felt that we had told his story in the first three films and had our happily-ever-after ending.

"If you are going to make another movie, you have to assume that five minutes after he swims away, he is haunted by demons, he never resolved things and has to live on the margins, desperate and running out of road."

That indeed is how the new chapter opens: Bourne - real name David Webb - is deep underground, living rough, a drifter using his wits and fists to survive.

Every Bourne film has one trait: The amnesiac agent's poignant need for a father figure, portrayed previously by actors such as Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Albert Finney. In the new film, Tommy Lee Jones as CIA director Robert Dewey steps into the part of the older man trying to win Bourne's trust, if only to manipulate him.

The film kicks off with the vagabond Bourne receiving a message that triggers that same "deep, animating need" in him, giving the new movie a reason to exist, says Damon.

"It's the prodigal son returning, in rage and frustration, to confront the father."

Except the son is now much older than the one who appeared in the first movie, The Bourne Identity, in 2002.

"It's definitely more difficult to play Jason Bourne when you are 45, than when you are 29. You have to run just as hard, you're pursued just as diligently," he says with a laugh.

Damon, who has three daughters and a step-daughter with his wife Luciana Barroso, realises that he will soon age out of the role.

"I am definitely going to be replaced some day by some new, younger Jason Bourne. That happens to everybody. They reboot these things. And that is totally fine."

But as long as he is involved in the series, he is its curator, he says, and with that power, he "battled hard to get the same creative people involved".

People such as director Greengrass, 60, who began his career as a documentary-maker and whose films, such as Captain Phillips (2013) and Green Zone (2010, also starring Damon), bear evidence of his run-and-gun journalistic style.

Damon is also excited by how each Bourne film is "of its time", addressing anxieties "pulled from the headlines".

"For example, Ultimatum was very much about the war on terror. The three places that we staged our action scenes in were Madrid, London and Manhattan, and those were places that had been affected directly by terrorism," he says.

The new film asks how much privacy we are willing to lose in a world where corporations such as Facebook and Twitter own the account details of millions of users who take it on trust that their personal data will not be exploited for commercial gain.

Damon says: "What has been revealed in the last few years is that there was a breach in privacy that we were not even aware of. It's a conversation we need to have out in the open."

•Jason Bourne opens in Singapore tomorrow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Bourne is back'. Print Edition | Subscribe