David Rice is a high-school nobody, until he accidentally discovers that he can jump – teleport himself to places he has been before. He runs away from his broken home, robs a few banks, and sets himself up with a cushy lifestyle. But then he discovers that he is not alone in his abilities, and that a shadowy organisation of Paladins has been hunting jumpers for hundreds of years. And they have David right in their sights.
Because I haven’t read the Steven Gould book the film is based on, I’m just going to take it on its own merits. First of all, the film is a traditional wish-fulfilment fantasy: ordinary boy discovers he has a secret ability, and discovers that because of this secret, dark powers are ranged against him. Adventures ensue, during which he gains mastery of his ability, and uses it to defeat his enemies.
Executed well, this is a great, classic plot, and Jumper does a very good job with it. Hayden Christensen (who plays David) often comes across as bland and monotone, in a handsome way, but in this serves the film well: it emphasizes David’s essential ordinariness, apart from his ability to jump. He doesn’t know kung-fu. He doesn’t dress up in a costume and fight evil. He uses his powers to make his life lush and easy, not to better mankind. So when he first encounters the bad guys (Samuel L. Jackson & co.), he is totally outmatched.
This is where the other jumper, Griffin, comes in. Griffin (played brilliantly by Jamie Bell) is a fast-talking, bitter, and somewhat unhinged young man who has been running from the Paladins, and fighting back, all his life. He is the archetypal mentor in the story, with the twist that he sees David as more of a threat than a student. He doesn’t want David upsetting all his plans and jeopardising his carefully hidden base. He is by far the more interesting of the two, but the needs of the plot dictates that he is relegated to the role of edgy, antagonistic ally. (At least they decided not to make him “wise-cracking”, too.) Still, because he doesn’t die (ah, damn it, spoiler), the door is open for him to play a more important part in the sequel.
Which brings me to OMG HOW BLATENTLY OPEN-ENDED CAN A FILM GET?? Fully the last fifteen minutes are spent carefully not resolving plot lines and setting up the pieces for Jumper 2. Which, given its box office so far, is a near certainty. Really, you could even see it as a pilot for a TV series than a stand-alone film.
But still…I liked it. It reminded me a lot of The Bourne Identity, also directed by Doug Liman. Just like Jason Bourne, David Rice has to rely on his own abilities instead of the gadgets and resources of some powerful agency. Both characters are hunted outcasts, gradually fighting their way inwards to the core of a conspiracy. (Even the soundtrack for Jumper has overtones of Bourne – the main theme sounds an awful lot like Moby’s Extreme Ways.) This is what it comes down to for me: it’s a good hero story. I’m just a sucker for those.