By Jeff Labrecque
September 24, 2012 at 08:16 PM EDT
Mary Cybulski

Two weeks ago, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said that the studio would like another Bourne movie, following the well-received summer sideboot starring Jeremy Renner as fugitive agent Aaron Cross. Some reporters automatically assumed that meant a sequel was already in the works, but though that might prove inevitable, it is not yet official, according to sources close to the franchise. In fact, the future of Bourne is almost as up in the air as it was when Matt Damon decided not to return as the titular secret agent.

When original Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy agreed to direct a new chapter of the franchise minus Jason Bourne, he didn’t envision a one-and-done spaceholder until Damon felt up to the task again. The last scene of Legacy doesn’t just leave the door open for another Aaron Cross adventure; it practically pulls you through it. [SPOILER ALERT!] Cross and Rachel Weisz’ doctor are alive, enjoying a short respite on a Filipino fishing boat. But the bad guys — especially Edward Norton — are still at large, and sure to be hot on their trail.

Legacy has performed admirably at the box office — $110.4 million — but not as well as the three Damon movies, and not even close to The Bourne Ultimatum, the trilogy capper that grossed $227.5 million in 2007. Renner is contractually on board for a follow-up, while Damon has maintained it’s not a matter of if, but when he returns. “If [Legacy] doesn’t work, we can just ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen, and that’d be fine,” he said before the film’s August release. “But I expect that it will work and only help us if we did another one, which I’d love to do.”

No one expected Legacy to rival the original films at the box office. Damon won audiences over with the original 2002 film, becoming a legitimate action star. Despite Renner’s two Oscar nominations and his supporting roles in two other massive franchises — Mission: Impossible and The Avengers — he isn’t a brand that has yet opened a big movie. Even with Universal paying Renner a fraction of what Damon earned, Legacy was an expensive movie — estimates point to a $125 million production, not counting marketing — and the total global take is just over $200 million (though it’s just beginning its run in some foreign markets.) That’s not especially ideal math for a studio blockbuster, though it likely keeps the lights on. The question facing Universal right now is: Does Renner’s Cross get another solo adventure, or does Damon’s Bourne re-enter the fray to goose the box office?

By any objective standard, Gilroy/Renner deserve another sequel. The movie performed well, critics were kind, and they managed the tight-rope act of transplanting a new high-octane engine under the hood of classic muscle car, so to speak. It’s almost as good as new… Yet, there’s Damon waiting on the sideline, not only an unspoken character in Gilroy’s film, but a looming presence in the minds of fans.

Bourne producer Frank Marshall has said, “My dream is that in the next one we see Matt and Jeremy team up,” but weaving the two threads might not be as simple as it sounds. Creatively, it might be a piece of cake. The genius of Legacy is that Cross’s adventures occur parallel to the events of Ultimatum. Bourne disappeared after his showdown in New York, but he’s alive and likely just in hiding. Surely, the same government baddies who want Cross dead also have a contract out on the agent who caused this mess in the first place, and it’s just a matter of time before they pick up a ping revealing his whereabouts.

A Bourne/Cross collision sounds spectacular, but there remain some knots to sort out… like who would direct? Damon made it very clear that his interest in Bourne is linked to director Paul Greengrass’s involvement, but Gilroy is now calling the shots. Greengrass and Gilroy butted heads during Supremacy and Ultimatum — and Damon didn’t help matters when he told GQ that Gilroy’s Ultimatum script was “unreadable.” (Damon publicly apologized, but Gilroy said last month that he and Damon haven’t spoken in years.)

So somebody is going to have to bend to realize Bourne V: Jason Lives. Either Damon has to mend fences with Gilroy and agree to work with him instead of Greengrass, or Gilroy has to step aside and take a lesser role while his rival takes the keys. Both scenarios seem unlikely without some pressure from Universal, who ultimately will make the decision.

Gilroy has said that there’s no script yet for the next movie, and according to a source close to the franchise, no one’s been hired. Fortunately, I work on such speculative matters for free: Bourne V should be another Gilroy/Renner joint, a globe-trotting adventure that picks off where Legacy left off. Cross and Norton’s Col. Byer warrant another face-to-face showdown, especially after that hyper-intense “We are the sin-eaters” flashback. But perhaps Cross survives at the end only with the help of some hidden hand, someone who shares his motives and has been watching from the shadows. Maybe we see Damon’s Bourne in the final moments of Bourne V, or maybe we only find out about his helpful actions in Bourne VI, when the pair team up to crack the deeper conspiracy behind the conspiracy behind the first conspiracy.

Where do you see the Bourne franchise heading? Did Renner and Gilroy deliver the goods?

Read more:

‘Bourne Legacy’: The Last Big Thing of the Summer

‘Bourne Legacy’ trailer

Is Jeremy Renner the new Matt Damon?

What is ‘Bourne Legacy’ without Matt Damon?

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 125 minutes
  • Tony Gilroy
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