I love superhero films. I love sci-fi. I will see anything on these themes, anything at all, so long as it doesn’t star Tom Hanks (whom I abhor and avoid at all costs).
So I went to see Jumper the other afternoon on my own (couldn’t imagine anyone else who’d go see it with me and understand how I wanted to watch it). I was expecting B, and B I got. But it was fun*. Until just now, when I started thinking about it.
Here’s a quick overview of the story (look out for spoilers):
A boy is bullied at school. He has an abusive, alcoholic father.
He learns to ‘jump’ between physical locations. There’s talk of worm holes and so on, but it’s mostly a matter of willing yourself to a new location. You must, though, have a picture or visual image of your destination – your jump point (this is interesting because it leads to obsessive, massive collections of photos of exotic places).
He grows up, and has a flash apartment. He jumps all over the world, stealing money from banks.
He’s chased by nasty ‘paladins’, who’re some sort of ancient religious order committed to wiping out jumpers.
He revisits his high school sweetheart and shows off. This ends in trouble.
He learns he’s not the only ‘jumper’.
He joins forces with another jumper (just for a very short time, it’s agreed) to kill a particularly nasty paladin, Samuel L. Jackson.
He discovers the mother who abandoned him is a paladin.
She saves him in Rome.
There’s a lot of fighting, the girl gets beat up a bit and involved in the violence.
The paladin gets killed (I think – I can’t remember).
He (and the girl) visit his mother. We’re left with a ‘there will be a sequel’ scene.
Basically, it was like watching The O.C. with special effects. The characters were physically quite beautiful (in a very conventional, O.C. way). There were petulant teenagers of both genders (I think the protagonist was meant to be in his 20s, but he read teenager to me), there were silly car chases (yay!), there were silly story lines… no, wait. I don’t think there was actually a story line.
Overall, it was fun. So long as you didn’t notice:
- The way the protagonist (whose name I just can’t remember) treated women: find ’em, fuck ’em, jump out of their town and go surfing/leave them stranded in a foreign country. This wasn’t a feminist-friendly film. There were at least two female characters, but they didn’t really speak at all, let alone speak to each other
- Paladins. Why do people call characters ‘paladins’? Especially if they’re baddies? It doesn’t really work, even if it’s meant to make you think about knights or swords or whatever.
- Ethics. Well, you wouldn’t have to ignore them, because there didn’t seem to be any. It’s made quite clear that this a fairly selfish teenager, who could seriously do with a telling off. At one point he’s watching telly in his luxury flat and we see a news story about people stuck in flood water. The voice over on the news report is something like ‘how could anyone possibly get there to save them?’ and the protagonist looks away, bored. Needless to say, though he has the technology, he won’t be doing any saving. Or walking to the fridge. Or using doors.
- The muscles-without-cause. The protagonist is seriously buff. Buff like Clark from Smalls – he’s seriously built, and yet his lifestyle doesn’t seem to leave room for working out, getting exercise, lifting weights, etc. So the Jumper guy is seriously musclebound, and yet he’s so lazy he’s suprised when the other Jumper guy (that young kid from Billy Elliot, all growed up) walks around cities instead of jumping from place to place. How, I ask you, could he have developed that body – hell, how could he not be seriously obese with that type of lifestyle? Clark has a slightly different problem – he’s simply so strong he’d find it very difficult to get any sort of resistance training happening. So how come he’s so buff and built?
- The costumes. Oh, golly, there was bad teenage fashion in this film. Where was the big name French designer to save the costumes? Even the stupid Matrix managed to put together some decent costumes for the characters.
- The camera work. Oh man, I freakin’ hate this director (Doug Liman), especially the Bourne films. The latest Bourne film was particularly painful – nasty cuts, editing jumping all over the place, horrible hand held camera. In most cases all this busy technical stuff managed to distract from the excitement and tension of the actual events on the screen – we’re so busy noticing the editing or camera work, we forget to pay attention to what the protagonist is doing. I dunno, perhaps it ‘looks’ like first-person real time games or something (hence marking its territory as ‘young adolescent males’ with this and the persistent misogyny in the narrative), but I just find it annoying. Jumper was at times really difficult to physically watch – the camera would move too quickly for your eyes to focus (including a couple of really, really lame pans across the desert – they were meant to show us how alone and isolated the character/lair was, but moved so quickly we didn’t have time to see that there was nothing to see). There were some poorly composed shots – nasty framing that left you thinking ‘perhaps this film’s artier than I th… no. It’s just crappy.’
- The extras. Looking. At. The. Camera. Yes, wonderfully profesionally work there, Young Woman In Bar 2.
- The bullshit sound in the bar scene. So the protagonist is in a bar, talking to his high school sweetheart. It’s crowded. Said crowd is watching a sports game (dunno what type), so they alternately cheer loudly, hush expectantly and mouth conversations silently in the middle of the shot while the leads talk about… what? I was distracted there. That was some really bad action. So we heard the leads talking quietly, with almost no ambient noise, and then all of a sudden the crowd starts cheering. We see people, right in the middle of shots, talking, but we can’t hear them. It’s really, really terrible, amateur stuff.
But, on the other hand, we can read this film as a story about an abused child suddenly granted unbelievable superhero powers.
Interestingly, the film is based on a young adult fiction novel by Steven Gould. I haven’t read it, but on wikipedia is notes that the protagonist is escaping from an “abusive home”. If you keep that in mind, it’s not really all that surprising that he ends up obsessed with money and a ‘safe’ home, hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s also not surprising that he’s crappy with relationships.
In that light Samuel L. Jackson’s obsessed hunting of the jumpers becomes quite distressing. If the protagonist is a damaged boy who’s not really living socially, then a vicious, religious fanatic hunting him fanatically because he knows he’s innately ‘evil’ serves as the scary fulfillment of an abused child’s sense of self:
Dad hurts me because I’m bad and I deserve it. The paladins are hunting (and hurting) me because I’m evil and I deserve it.
This becomes even more concerning if we keep in mind the fact that we only ever see male jumpers, thus conflating all jumpers with this one protagonist – his experience becomes the experience of all jumpers. This idea is born up by the (unheard) confession by the Griffin (Billy Elliot) jumper that his parents were killed by paladins when he was a child. And the fact that Griffin had a nasty childhood (a point the protagonist responds to with his first moment of ‘real’ (?) emotion. So either all jumpers are echoes of this one protagonist, or all jumpers are abused boys who’ve managed to ‘escape’. Either way, it’s unhappy stuff.
We also see the protagonist’s mother (who abandoned he and his father years ago) turn up on the paladin’s team, later explaining that it was actually the son’s fault that she left in the first place (and her leaving is presented as the reason for the father’s alcoholism and violence)… Well, it’s not a happy story.
Again, if we read this as a story of a lonely, abused child, it’s not surprising that the boy’s chained bedroom door (chained on the inside to protect himself) is replaced by an apartment which apparently has no working doors, and includes a ‘panic room’ (with no doors at all) filled with money and gear. Hoarding food is a marker of a pretty unhappy, frightened child, and hoarding currency/jewels/gear in obsessive tidiness becomes the marker of a damaged young adult who never feels safe.
So, there are lots of things to ignore in this film, and lots of things which are really quite sad on second glance. But if you just think ‘woo-hoo! Special effects!’ it’s all cool. Particularly if you like the O.C. (which is also a story about an unhappy boy-man whisked off to sudden and startling wealth, if I remember properly).
*I’ve blogged the preview here.