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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Review of the Jumper

Okay, so I saw Jumper. And since it's one of those movies involving people with powers and stuff like that, it seemed like a good idea to review it here.

This review is going to have fairly massive spoilers. I'll put a cut-tag up for anyone who doesn't want to be spoiled for the movie. It's also pretty fucking long, as I really didn't like the movie.

The funny thing about the whole thing is that I remember reading the book when I was a kid. I remember bits and pieces at most (just enough to confirm it was the same book) and I think I put it down halfway through. I remember just enough to be mildly surprised that of all the obscure people-with-powers sort of urban paranormal sci-fi/fantasy out there, THIS book is the one that gets made into a movie. It was, to be honest, downright forgettable.

The movie is, at least, not forgettable. But it kind of sucks.

Spoilers Abound, Go Away

Okay, the biggest, as I see it, problem with the movie is that the main character played by Hayden Christensen never really seems to do anything to warrant being the main character.

I'm not saying that the guy has to be a standard boyscout-esque hero, mind, but even an anti-hero needs something to make the audience want to side with the character. I don't think it's Christensen's fault. The guy is a decent enough actor, but like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, the role really isn't given a whole lot beyond cheesy dialogue.

Okay, David Rice is from a broken home. His mother left when he was five, his father is a loud shouty drunk who may or may not be physically abusive. At the very least, he's not adverse to kicking down the door to his son's room when he thinks the kid's hiding from him. It's a decent set-up for pathos, sure, but there's never really much pay-off. We really don't see enough of his father to make it worthwhile, though I admit, I might have teared up a little when eight years after leaving home for good, David ends up back in his old room, with his father rambling through the door that if he isn't a hallucination then he can come back home anytime.

I also liked when his father stood up to Samuel L. Jackson's character. He appeared to go along with his demands in a fairly bumbling fashion, but the interchange where he tells Jackson's character that he'll call if he hears anything about the son he hasn't seen in ten years, Jackson looks flatly at him and says something like "No you won't" and he quietly confirms, that's the best scene in the movie.

Of course, we never actually know if he lives through whatever Jackson's character does to him. We see David find him, teleport him into the hospital and people come running, but as far as I could tell, we never actually find out if he's dead. Which is really fucking annoying.

Okay, back to David. Okay, on paper David seems like he could be an interesting character. He's a thief, essentially. He teleports into a bank vault at 15, steals lots and lots of money, and lives wealthy, hopping place to place at a whim for eight years. He makes lip service to the idea of paying them back someday, but it's fairly clearly just that.

In the hopes of fair play, I'm ignoring the fact that I really think it's unlikely nowadays that a character would be able to successfully rob a bank vault like that. What with all the smart money and tracked money and serial numbers and all that sort of thing, I really think they'd have caught the guy much sooner than eight years in. But to be fair, the book is fairly old. I was twelve, near as I can estimate, when I read it, and I'm willing to allow that they might not have had the capacity to track the money back then like they would now.

Anyway, the formula for the sort of anti-hero that David is, on paper, is that you have a very self-absorbed protagonist who discovers a reason to look outside of his little bubble and genuinely care for someone or something else. I'm not saying that the guy needs to be ready to storm the gates of Hell to save the world, but there ought to be some measure of selflessness and human caring. David doesn't have that. Even when he's being "the good guy" and trying to keep his girlfriend from getting killed, it's more about the girlfriend in relationship to him than to anyone else.

The problem I think is that David starts off a smug, self-absorbed twit and he never really moves from that position in the whole film. Except for those few moments that he gets his ass kicked by Jackson early on, which really only serves as motive to go back home to Ann Arbor, meet his childhood sweetheart and take her on a trip to Rome using stolen bank-money, the man's smug self-absorption never seems to falter.

Honestly, I might have had more sympathy for the character if it weren't for the fact that he essentially squanders his ability for eight years on frivolous things. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but it's called out in sharp relief when, early on, we see the man watching television and seeing news of a flood with announcers wondering how the rescue workers would get there. Obviously David could get there easily, but instead he goes off surfing and popping over to random other nifty places.

This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing except that he doesn't really ever get a redemption moment later. He saves his girlfriend sure, but that's about it. All I could think of, by the end, was how much better the story would have been if the other Jumper, Griffin, had been the lead instead.

Sure Griffin's a little crazy and more than a bit murderous. He spends most of his time killing "Paladins" (characters like Jackson who've been hunting Jumpers since medieval times. The movie never even conjectures where Jumpers actually come from, presumably since they have normal parents, it's like a mutation, but a bit of theory wouldn't hurt. Perhaps Griffin knows, but David never even asks, despite the shock of meeting another person like him) and is a prickly bastard aside.

But the thing is, at least he's doing something. He's clearly been training his abilities, and he's got some very entertaining ways of trying to kill the people who are trying to kill him. He's clearly got some measure of human compassion even if he doesn't really want David around, or he wouldn't give the guy advice or team up in the "Marvel team-up" fashion. He's got the basis to be a good anti-hero. It's a shame however that they don't do much with him aside from have him willing to set up a bomb to blow up Paladins and captured girlfriend aside once and for all.

Of course, it's a monstrous act, but it's not completely hard to understand. The movie avoids giving him a Han Solo esque redemption by having a huge fight scene between the two Jumpers, with David leading Griffin into a trap and leaving him there. We don't know if/when he gets out, which is pretty fucking annoying because by this point he was the only interesting part of the movie.

Aside from the not wanting to kill an innocent girl, there's nothing to make us side with David over Griffin. Admittedly, not wanting to blow up an innocent girl is a big thing. But a part of me can't help but wonder if David would care at all if the innocent girl was someone he'd never met versus the girl that was everything to him since age five.

The conflict between "Paladins" and "Jumpers" could be interesting, but there's no depth or complexity. Griffin's the closest thing to a complex character we have, being all haunted, chased, and half-crazy and more than willing to sacrifice one girl to get rid of the bunches of people trying to kill off his kind. The Paladins however have no such complexity. Samuel L. Jackson's character, and the Paladins as a whole, can be summed up in his oft-repeated "Only God should have this power."

Honestly, if you're going to spout one-dimensional idiocy like that, why not make it "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"? At least that has zip. Hey, I love me some evil religious fanatics as much as the next girl, but would it kill you to try to give them a little flair, even if not depth? How about some red robes? Ooo, or Latin! Something. It was neat that they had technology devices to find the tears in the space time continuum left in the Jumpers' wake and rip them open, but we don't know HOW they got them.

Now of course, there's the big twist. David's mother, who'd left when he was five, was a Paladin! Gasp! She left because he first teleported at age five and she didn't want to kill him. Why she was a paladin to begin with, we don't know. We also don't know why it took ten years for David to teleport again. And while it is at least somewhat a good thing that she left rather than kill her son, it's hard to sympathize with her when we see her all but palatial house toward the end of the movie and remember the kind of squallor she left her husband and son in. Also, there's a throwaway daughter/half-sister who's sole job appears to be to scream "Mom!" when David comes to see her. The sister seems to be a Hollywoodized 17-18. By which, I mean she looks twenty-five. Clearly she wasn't born that long after Mary Rice ditched the family, so one wonders whether she deliberately kept a child from her innocent husband and son, or if she went on the rebound REALLY fast.

Mary has the potential to be interesting. She's clearly high enough up in the ranks of the Paladins to override Samuel L. Jackson's ambush plans and only send two men instead of an army to capture him in Rome. But all she does to help her son is thrust the keys to his handcuffs at him. There is a moment when, in her ex-husband's house, Samuel L. Jackson sees a picture of her, but there isn't much of a visible reaction and no consequences in this movie. You'd think the guy would have more of a reaction to the woman who'd changed his plans in Rome, let their quarry escape, who just HAPPENS to be the lead character's mother.

I did like the bit where she hugs him and tells him "Because I love you, I'm giving you a headstart." Since that character as a villainess could be fairly awesome. But it still doesn't overcome the general apathy of the entire storyline.

(And by the way, the whole teleporting a room of the building was an obvious plot progression as soon as Griffin mentioned knowing a guy who tried to teleport a whole building and died in the process.)

I did feel sorry for Rachel Bilson. All she got to do was look cute, petulantly, if understandably, demand answers, and get hoisted around place-to-place by David. As much as I thought she was a moron to accept an invitation to Rome from a guy she hasn't seen in eight years, I felt bad for her with what happened next.

And by the way, when David kept zipping about to prevent her from running when he finally does tell her the truth, standing in front of her, teleporting behind her when she ran, et al, that was really not indicative of a good relationship dynamic damnit. I mean, hell, all he had to say after the initial teleport is "Look, these people want to kill me because of what I can do and they're coming for you because I was stupid enough to drag you with me to Rome, I'm sorry" and teleport her away. Preferably to some place SHE knows, not to your new friend's nifty underground lair. Dick.

A good ending could have probably mitigated a lot of my complaints, but honestly, the ending was a paltry weak sputter which screamed "Look! Loose ends! Sequel!" I don't think I ever made it to the book's end, but the movie definitely doesn't encourage me to seek it out. Bah.

At least the company was good, the movie sucked. I'd have gladly watched a movie about that Griffin fellow though. He seemed kind of neat.

4 Comments:

  • At February 23, 2008 6:39 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    I wouldn't call Jumper forgettable. I mean to YOU it was. Me, its one of my "reread at least once a year" books. But from the commercials I thought the movie wouldn't capture anything I enjoyed from the book. And most of the reviews seem to be confirming that...

     
  • At February 23, 2008 6:45 AM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    And now reading your review I see that they TOTALLY botched up the book even more than I'd heard. Wow. Dropped the abuse angle. Dropped that he robbed the bank because as a 17 year old runaway with no documentation it was kind of difficult to find work in New York. Dropped the mom leaving because SHE was abused. Dropped the college age girlfriend met on his 18th birthday. Dropped the stuff with his cop neighbor. Dropped the terrorist angle that changes the ENTIRE focus of the book in the second half. Dropped the pursuit by government forces after he accidently reveals himself to them...

    Added a second Teleporter. Added an "evil conspiracy of hunters". Increased the time line...

    Yeah, even if they'd picked an actor who WASN'T dull as dirt Whiny Annie I'm glad I passed on this one...

     
  • At February 23, 2008 10:02 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Well, I haven't seen this, and I don't plan to. But it is always frustrating to see a movie that COULD have been interesting, if only...!

    Sounds on the sloppy side.

     
  • At February 24, 2008 3:15 PM, Blogger False Prophet said…

    I've never read the book so I can't comment on the translation to the big screen. All I know is the movie that was made insulted my intelligence immensely. The effects were really cool, and that's just about all I can say in the film's favour.

    The character of David was played as a complete fool. So you have this comfortable existence for 8 years, when one day, some guy shows up who knows all about you and your powers, and tries to do you physical harm, and you narrowly escape. And your first instinct is to go look up all the family and friends who haven't seen you for 8 years but represent the only way someone could track you?

    Also, I note that half of David's massive errors could have been avoided if Griffin had just sat him down and explained the facts to him for 5 minutes.

    There were numerous ways the film could have been made better. If they had made the central conflict between David and his mother, that at least would have injected some emotional depth into the story. If they weren't going to use Rachel Bilson's character in any sort of meaningful way, it would have been better to just remove her from the storyline. And as a friend noted, "Marvel Team-up would be lame if both characters had the same power".

     

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