*. A movie very much launched with a franchise in mind, but things didn’t pan out. Why not? Most if not all of the ingredients were there. Let’s look at where things went off the rails.
*. A formulaic YA novel from 1992 provided a perfectly workable concept. It was adapted very freely here to make it even more formulaic. That formula being the standard superhero stuff of the boy who is given special powers and the girlfriend who has to try to understand just how special he is. Throw in the rival gangs of Montagues and Capulets, or werewolves and vampires, or Paladins and Jumpers. You’re good to go.
*. A likeable star in Hayden Christensen. Though I wouldn’t rate him as more than likeable. I guess he’s not known for much, if anything, outside of being Anakin Skywalker. But then do we remember Mark Hamill for anything aside from playing Luke? Call it the curse of the Skywalkers.
*. As for Christensen: he’s good looking, but while not a hopeless actor he doesn’t project much of anything on screen. Anthony Lane, in his best put-down mode, refers to him as having been “a kind of handsome void where Anakin was supposed to be” before lowering the boom: “One day, I feel sure, the rich mantle of charisma will descend upon him, but Jumper is not that occasion.” Still, in a movie like this Christensen’s handsome void might have been more than enough.
*. Throw in Rachel Bilson as the hero’s girlfriend. There’s at least a bit of chemistry there, as they’d go on to be a couple for a while off-screen. Jamie Bell is the fast-talking Brit who knows the ropes. Apparently his accent is considered “Geordie.” Live and learn. Samuel L. Jackson is here, and for once not tearing down the house with an over-the-top performance loaded with MF-bombs to match his shocking white helmet of hair. But then he may have sensed that he didn’t have to do much to take over the movie completely. And there’s even an already sullen Kristen Stewart popping her head in at the end just to say hello before jumping out of this franchise to start her own, on her way to becoming the highest-paid actress in the world over the next couple of years. We’ll have a good time explaining that, years from now.
*. Speaking of Christensen and Bilson, it was during their scene together at the Colosseum that I was struck by the big gap in their heights. Not surprised by the gap — that’s not uncommon — but surprised that I noticed it. There are many ways to conceal this, most often used when casting a short leading man. Christensen is 6′ and Bilson 5’2″ and I really picked up on it when they were together in Rome. Then you notice things like the heels on her boots (the ones she has such trouble pulling off in bed). Those look like they are 4-inch heels! Have fun walking around Rome in those!
*. Director Doug Liman was a hot property coming off of The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and I give him more credit than most for some decent action sequences. I like that the jumping stuff isn’t always swaddled in effects but looks like pretty basic editing tricks a lot of the time. This allows the fight and chase scenes to whip along quite nicely.
*. Critics panned it but there was decent box office. Which leads back to the question I started with: why didn’t this series have legs? They certainly seemed to be setting us up at the end for a bunch of sequels, as Griffin (Bell) and Roland (Jackson) are both left hanging, literally (the one from a power line the other from a cliff). But aside from a short-lived spin-off series that played on YouTube this was to be it.
*. The bad reviews, or at least their vehemence, didn’t make a lot of sense to me. An incoherent and inexplicable plot? It seemed to make rough sense to me, at least as much as any of these superhero movies do. Sure there isn’t any larger sense of purpose to the goings-on — what is it Jumpers really want to do with their special powers aside from have a good time? why do the Paladins want to kill them off? — but none of this bothered me. Of course none of it makes a lick of sense, but if you’re already tossing out all the most basic laws of physics then who cares about the details?
*. Perhaps the script was to blame. David (Christensen) doesn’t seem very relatable or likeable. The movie begins with his voiceover telling us how he used to be “normal.” I took this as a put-down, and he immediately tells us that this is how it was, indeed, intended, by adding “a chump just like you.” So all of us non-Jumpers are just losers? What a terrible way to alienate an audience right from the get-go. And the producers were well aware of this as they talk about the voiceover “insulting the audience” on the commentary track. Apparently they saw it as making David more realistic and relatable. They thought that audiences would root for the hero more if he would act like a regular guy (or dude, or bro) by “flexing” and being a player. I don’t get it, but then I’m sure I wasn’t in the target demographic.
*. The script was also shoved into the back seat by the decision to have the movie “move at the pace a teleporter lives his life” (this comes from one of the voices on the commentary). That is to say, with all the boring parts (exposition, plot mechanics) taken out. Then add the fact that they were laying the groundwork for a franchise so they wouldn’t want to explain everything all at once (if they’d even figured out where they were going yet, which I suspect they hadn’t). The result is a story that feels like they were making half of it up as they went along.
*. The thing is, despite all the talk on the commentary track about how they were avoiding “normal cliché formula” and “turning the genre on its head,” this is a really conventional picture with a pair of pretty young people making out and doing lots of action stunts in exotic locations, served up with no more interest in character than a typical Marvel production. It also feels very much like what it is: the first part of a likely trilogy that was never made. In sum: I can’t say I feel let down by it, or by the fact that there weren’t any more.