[29 June 2008]
Jumper, directed by Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity,Swingers), is a straight-forward adolescent fantasy. It’s about a teleporting teenager (Haydn Christensen) who uses his ability to “jump” away from all his problems. Based on a Young Adult novel of the same name, Jumper is a movie about inexperience speaking to the inexperienced. And it’s about brashness and arrogance, the rewards of brashness and arrogance, and absolutely none of the consequences of either.
I doubt anyone is surprised that someone like Haydn Christensen was cast as the leader of such brash arrogance; he’s made his career on childish characters too big for their britches. In the Star Wars Prequels, and films like Shattered Glass and Life as a House he illustrates an impatience, even a distain, for the previous generations’ ways and a general insubordination towards growing up. The present is now, the past is dead.
Christensen’s character in Jumper, David Rice, is no different. After a near-death experience in middle school triggers his teleportation, Rice treats his father (Michael Rooker), his friends and everyone else in the world as inferiors (except his middle-school crush, Millie Harris (Rachel Bilson), whose obsession he harbors even through his perceived omnipotence). After leaving house and home to pursue the extant of his powers, Rice ends up living the life only a maladjusted early teen can.
He coasts through sentience exploring every childhood fantasy of teleportation – appearing inside bank vaults, winning bar fights, and surfing the best waves imaginable “all before lunch time,” as he expounds in the opening voice-over. Rice is someone with superpowers, but he’s no superhero. As each adventure and peril leads to new plot points, we await Rice’s transformation from a bank-robbing, womanizing delinquent into the Peter-Parker superhero who understands that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
But the payoff never comes. Rice makes no such butterflying transitions toward maturity. He simply remains naïve; but at the end, he’s also defeated some bad guys, so I guess that counts for something.
For an adult audience, Jumper suffers greatly from a common problem in Young Adult novels; the film has an interesting and original concept, but doesn’t explore it fully, as to not disaffect its bread and butter. This is not to be pejorative to Young Adult (YA) novels. In my experience, YA is an elusive breed. They’re not quite children’s books – simple and elegant, like The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf’s tale of a Spanish bull who loves flowers. But at the same time, YA doesn’t usually offer the same depth and subtlety for grown-ups found in Adult literature. YA can easily become stuck in an artistic miasma: not wanting to alienate their reader-base by being either too complex or too simple.
There are incredible exceptions: Lois Lowry, at her best, in books like The Giver and Number the Stars; dreamy moral pieces like A Wrinkle in Time; or even simple tales like Sachar’s Holes and Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (check out the American Library Association website for a complete list of the Newbery Award winners), but often, writing to a specific demographic will have its shortcomings. YA can easily fall through the cracks, and become novels to be merely remembered rather than admired. It’s rare for a YA to make a demographic transition – to become an all-time favorite through adulthood (though, the same could be said for children’s books – though Le Petit Prince is certainly on my list).
Jumper isn’t able to translate the strict adolescent morality of the story into a broader fan-base, though it certainly tries. In the commentary, Liman alludes to the idea that maybe Rice isn’t the hero in this film, a very adult concept indeed, but this idea is barely explored, except for a few manipulative shots showing a bored David turning off a news report about flood victims. The classic hero conventions of finding a mentor, beating the bad guy and saving the girl are all present, and don’t seem to support Liman’s argument.
Additionally, the rest of the commentary reveals the pompous attitude of the filmmakers towards the film. Constantly referring to their originality in crafting a superhero film and comparing it directly to perceived weaker stories like Batman and Spiderman, Liman and producers Simon Kinberg and Lucas Foster believe they’ve created a more realistic superhero. “We took the genre convention and turned it on its side,” they state. The three also wax philosophical about how Sam Jackson’s character (a covert agent on a mission to kill all “jumpers”) could possibly be the hero of the film because it’s all a matter of perspectives, comparing him to – surprise, surprise – Hitler. These simplistic ideas of realism and perspectives turn Jumper even more towards the Young Adult genre.
Being PG-13 doesn’t mean the film has to be tailored to that age bracket. If Jumper were less demographically specific, the drawbacks of instantaneous travel could have been highlighted more, or even just present at all, and the fallacies of our main character could have been exploited more heavily. But, then again, I’m just exhibiting the same miasmic fallacy of Young Adult novels. When it all comes down to it, just because the movie is made for teenagers, doesn’t mean it can’t show youthful characters flaws as just that – youthful.
Our main character can be full of faults without having to suggest that he’s the villain. Jumper draws strict moral lines between good and bad, and what’s more classically superhero than that? Jumper gets much too far ahead of itself and doesn’t deliver the goods to be satisfying, and the arrogant commentary doesn’t make me sympathetic to its aims.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/jumper1/