This past week saw the announcement that Jeremy Renner had been offered the lead in the next movie in the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy. After the departures of both director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon from the Bourne series, a question mark was left hanging. Would we see another Bourne film? If so, who would play the titular character? The Bourne films made Damon as a bona fide A-list star, and he has become synonymous with the role. Was replacing him an impossible task?
The answer, it turned out, was yes and no. It was announced that there would be another film in the Bourne series, but that whilst The Bourne Legacy would take place in the universe created by author Robert Ludlum and so successfully brought to the screen by directors Doug Liman and Greengrass, the character of Jason Bourne would not be on-screen. The story will instead delve deeper into the murky world of shady government agencies featured in the series, and the actions of Bourne, his Legacy, would be felt throughout the film.
So Damon was not to be replaced directly, but a dynamic young action star would still be required to take on his mantel. Again, this was always going to be a difficult task, and despite the huge number of young male actors in Hollywood, there are actually very few suitable choices. There are many pretenders to the action hero thrones of the likes of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, but very few have the required combination of looks, acting ability and screen presence. There have been attempts to turn the likes of Channing Tatum, Sam Worthington and even Jake Gyllenhaal into the new generation of action stars in the last few years, but these attempts have been less than successful. Worthington and particularly Tatum have very little charisma on-screen, and whilst Gyllenhaal always does a reliable job, he really isn’t a fit for the all out action hero, despite his efforts in Prince of Persia.
There are a couple of actors far better suited to these types of roles. Chris Pine impressed as Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, and would be a good fit, but his appointment as the new Jack Ryan possibly ruled him out, even if he was available, simply because the two roles would probably be just too similar. Chris Evans has shown his action chops in The Losers, and will confirm his credentials as an action star in the forthcoming Captain America, but the beginning of filming on The Avengers, in which Evans will play a massive part, has just begun. Ryan Reynolds is the new big thing, showing much versatility in the last couple of years, starring in romantic comedies, thrillers, and this year’s Green Lantern. Again, he would probably be a good choice for the part, but a glance at his IMDb page shows that he has a very busy slate of potential films.
The man chosen for the part has also made a name for himself in the action stakes in the last couple of years. Renner struggled for years to make an impact on the industry, but his breakthrough role in the Academy Award winning The Hurt Locker brought him right to the front of the queue, bagging him an Oscar nomination for lead actor. He followed this up with a superb showing in Ben Affleck’s sophomore directing effort The Town, and his newfound success as an action star has led to roles in both Mission: Impossible 4 and the afore-mentioned Avengers movie. He is working alongside Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise in the next movie of that series with a view to taking over the franchise as its new lead.
Renner has come from literally nowhere to be a red-hot property in Hollywood. The question, however, has become is he really up to it? There is no question that Renner has presence, acting ability, and looks the part with automatic weapons. But so far, he has not really proved himself in a lead role, working so far alongside other actors who were able to shoulder a lot of the burden. He was nominated for the Oscar for lead actor in The Hurt Locker, but much of the heavy lifting was taken on by his co-stars, with his character being very much a man of action not words. In The Town, he played the stereotypical loose cannon, a crazy with a passion for gunfire. We have yet to see Mission: Impossible, but i find it hard to believe he has managed to wrestle the lion’s share of the screen time from camera mugging star Tom Cruise.
There have been rumblings that Renner’s appointment as lead for The Bourne Legacy was a compromise between director and studio, combining the right amount of talent and star power to keep both sides appeased. This doesn’t necessarily bode well, and potentially puts Renner in an unenviable position. It can’t be a good feeling to hear stories that no-one really wanted you for a part, and if The Bourne Legacy disappoints, blame will be placed on its star from all sides.
I like Renner. He is a talented actor, he does have a lot of screen presence, and he has an everyman quality that combines with his physical prowess that makes him a very likable character actor. My worry is that he is being forced into a position that is not right for him. You cannot put a square peg in a round hole, and I fear that Renner’s recent success will be halted by the insistence of Hollywood execs of trying to fill a gap with whoever seems vaguely suitable. It did not work for Disney with Gyllenhaal and Prince of Persia, and it may well end badly here too.
I may be being unfair. Just because we have not seen Renner at the fore in a lead role does not mean he cannot carry a film, and a franchise, on his shoulders. By the time shooting for The Bourne Legacy begins, he will have had experience of several big Hollywood productions, and seen first hand some of Hollywood’s biggest stars at work. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a movie to call his own, and I wish him the best of luck. Hopefully, he doesn’t actually need it.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at