Doug Liman doesn’t release that many films, so you would hope that each new release would be a beautifully polished diamond of the highest quality. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always appear to be the case. Putting aside his undeniable classics Swingers (1996) and The Bourne Identity (2002), Liman’s efforts have included 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow – although perhaps the latter wasn’t so bad. But for the release of Liman’s latest film, The Wall, we’re going to revisit possibly one of his most underrated films: Jumper.
With a 16% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s clear that there are many people that believe that Jumper should never have been given a first chance, let alone a second. To these people we say that, despite the film’s many flaws, it still contains elements that must be commended, be they few and far between. So let’s dust off the cobwebs that shroud your DVD copy of Jumper, and give it another chance. We guarantee it’s nowhere near as bad as you remember.
That being said, it’s prudent to discuss some of the elements that don’t work. First things first, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: what the hell happened to Hayden Christensen? So maybe he managed to destroy the Star Wars prequel trilogy single-handed. And Jumper is the most notable film he’s acted in since. But that doesn’t make him a bad actor, does it?
Unfortunately that’s exactly what it makes him. The recurring problem in all of Christensen’s films is that he’s just not that likeable – with his flat tone of voice, blank facial expressions and an air of arrogance and indifference. With Anakin Skywalker, you could put this down to the character he played: essentially a petulant teenager who clearly just wanted to turn to the Dark Side. But what was his excuse for Jumper? David Rice is not only under-developed, he’s also… kind of a dick, for want of a better word. If you discovered you could teleport, what would be the first thing you would do? If you’re a teenage boy, you either use it to impress the ladies, rob banks (which, in fairness, he does), or you turn yourself into a makeshift superhero.
Instead, he consistently abandons his girlfriend (a slightly irritating Rachel Bilson) at various locales around the globe and gets her kidnapped by the evil “Paladins”. But it’s not only the girlfriend that gets a raw deal: despite the audience’s lack of knowledge as to what his father could possibly have done to him, David continues to treats him with disdain and disrespect. All in all, David Rice is not the most likeable or sympathetic of characters. Perhaps if we understood David’s relationship with his father, we would understand his behaviour towards him. But all we happen to see is him being extraordinarily creepy with Rachel Bilson. It doesn’t make for great viewing, and certainly doesn’t win our investment.
But honestly, Hayden Christensen wasn’t the fatal error for Jumper. The real issues come from the screenplay, which discards what could be engaging plot points as quickly as it introduces them. How come some people can teleport and others can’t? Is it a genetic abnormality, or the result of scientific experimentation? Who are the Paladins, and why do they hate the Jumpers enough to murder them in cold blood? Surely they would be better served by capturing them alive and experimenting on them? And last, and possibly most importantly, who really is Griffin?
Jamie Bell’s fellow Jumper crops up throughout the film, but for the most part he’s massively underused considering that Bell is actually a charismatic actor. He certainly could have counteracted Christensen’s petulance if nothing else. What sounds like an intriguing backstory is only briefly explored, and then abandoned so we can watch Christensen stand cockily on top of more landmarks. Griffin even states that the Paladins murdered his family when he was five, and yet this devastating history isn’t developed upon or even acknowledged. In fact, Griffin turns into something of a villain instead – Hayden Christensen is many things, but he certainly ain’t no hero.
All of this being said, Jumper does have its saving graces; certainly enough to grant it another watch. Despite the undoubtedly poor selection of Christensen for the main role, some of the casting is pretty top notch. Jamie Bell is always a pleasure to be around with his brittle “rough around the edges” style – and if nothing else, it’s always refreshing to hear a strong northern accent on screen. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough. But Bell is just the tip of the iceberg: lest we forget, Samuel L. Jackson played Roland, the evil Paladin intent on finding, and murdering, David. Unfortunately, Roland suffers from the same ailment as every other character in this film – we don’t understand his motivations, and therefore we don’t really care that much about the outcome – but Jackson is compelling enough to maintain enough interest to get us through. Same goes for Diane Lane, who appears in what is basically a cameo at the movie’s end. It’s a shame that these are all secondary characters that never really have too much of an impact on the story arc. Everything rests a little too heavily on Christensen, who never had the gravitas to carry a film such as this.
So maybe the casting wasn’t enough to save Jumper either. But there is one element that is enough to make this entire film worth a second viewing, and that’s the film’s central idea of teleportation. There are actually very few films that explore this notion – Kurt Neumann and David Cronenberg’s versions of The Fly (1958 and 1986) being two of the most popular – but it’s an idea that people are utterly engaged by. Why do people love the X-Men franchise so much? Because people are fascinated by the potential for human evolution. Although it’s arguably poorly executed, you can’t take away from the fact that the very basic concept of Jumper is strong: after all, who wouldn’t love to be able to teleport?
Let’s face it, if you could jump through space, you’d be doing exactly what David does in this film: robbing banks and taking daily vacations. Those scenes are the film’s saving grace, and they’re the only times that the audience is fully engaged with this sci-fi action flick. Bank vaults, perplexed security guards and money by the lorry-load: we enjoy it because we’d probably have done the same thing as a teenager. For this reason alone – the fact that teleportation is undeniably awesome – Jumper deserves a second chance. Hell, remake it without Hayden Christensen and you actually have the makings of a good film.