Doug Liman On Why He Wanted 'Impulse' To Be Nothing Like 'Jumper' [Interview]

2008's Jumper made money, but there was never a sequel, even though author Steven Gould continued writing novels. Jumper director Doug Liman decided to go back to this world by adapting the third novel, Impulse, for YouTube Premium.

Impulse stars Maddie Hasson as Henrietta, a high school student in a blended family. When the school jock Clay Boone (Tanner Stine) sexually assaults Henry, she teleports out of his car, crushing the car in the process and leaving Clay in a wheelchair. The town believes it was a hit and run, but as Henry continues to teleport, her stepsister Jenna (Sarah Desjardins) and classmate Townes Linderman (Daniel Maslany) try to help her figure out her powers.

Liman spoke with /Film this week about revisiting the world of his 2008 movie and how different he wanted Impulse to be. He also gave an update on his Edge of Tomorrow sequel, Live Die Repeat and Repeat. The first season of Impulse is available on YouTube Premium right now.

Did you have a lot more to say in the world of Jumper?

Yeah, there wasn't enough of me in Jumper. Even [when] I've done vastly different movies and big high concept movies, I've always found a way to put myself into them. I think part of the honesty you feel when you watch one of my movies is because you feel the presence of the filmmaker in it. It feels like there's something honest happening, even if it's Jason Bourne being chased by spies or Brad and Angie trying to kill each other in Mr. And Mrs. Smith. I've always found a way to personally connect to the material. I've been really interested in big ideas connected to very personalized personal storytelling, intimate personal storytelling. I feel like in Jumper, which was my first time dealing with a superpower, I was too caught up in the big idea and I lost the personal. With Impulse, I was determined to put myself back into the heart of it, make it a big idea that's also deeply, deeply personal.

Was there something about the third book that made you feel you could put yourself in this, and also distance it from the movie?

Yes, because it was a new character that didn't exist and I like that it was a heroine, it was female. I felt that automatically put me into different territory. And I love the book but I also loved the book of Bourne Identity and by the time I was done adapting it into a movie, I basically had thrown the whole book out. But I loved that it was a new character and a chance to create a new world.

By the third book, the readers must know how the powers work. Does allowing the characters on Impulse to discover the powers together make it more inclusive to the audience who are seeing this world for the first time?

I don't know if it's obnoxious of me, but I don't really think of the readers of the book. I feel like I'm creating something brand new. For people who love the book, it will thematically and emotionally feel the same, but it's a different story. I'm not thinking of whether people are going to compare it to the book or think they know what's going to happen because they read the book. The mythology of the series of Impulse is actually very different than the mythology of the Jumper series books.

Is there any connection to the Jumper movie?

It's a new story. The connection is that my approach  as a filmmaker is very much of a contrarian approach. When I went to do The Bourne Identity for instance and we were going to design action sequences, car chases and fights, I said, "I don't want them to look anything like the James Bond films." Even though I love the James Bond films, I was like, "I don't want it to look anything like James Bond. I don't want it to look anything like Mission: Impossible. I don't know what I want it to look like but my starting place is it's going to look nothing like those." In the same way, when I did Impulse I had something to compare it to. I said, "I don't want it to look anything like Jumper. I don't want the super power to look anything like Jumper." It's ironic, I'm rebelling against my own movie but I've done that before. Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a rejection of The Bourne Identity. It's very much informed by my having made Bourne Identity. Impulse is very much informed by my not wanting it to be Jumper. Look at how I did the superpower. In Jumper, the superpower is a gift and in Impulse it's a curse. How we visually portray the superpower, Impulse is this wild force that is incredibly destructive until she's going to learn to harness it, that in the pilot mortally wounds somebody. Now she has to live with that.

Do you imagine controlling her power a season one journey or much longer?

Longer. That's part of when I talk about I want to do something more personal and honest. In life, do we ever really get full control? It's a continuum. That seems more interesting, more honest, more personal.

Henry can't expect people to believe she's teleported. When she uses it to get out of Clay's car, is it also a metaphor for how women aren't believed when they say they were raped?

It wasn't intended that way. We portray a sexual assault in the pilot. Steven Gould always had this idea that your first teleportation would be connected to trauma. In his books, and in my movie, the trauma was this very Hollywood trauma of a snowboarding accident in the case of Impulse. How many people get buried in an avalanche while snowboarding? Unfortunately, way more people are victims of trauma like sexual assault. I wanted to start with somebody who was more in our world who gets this power.

That's certainly my own reaching interpretation of what it could mean.

We shot the pilot a year and a half ago. Since then, there's been this MeToo movement so I guess it's inevitable that people will be watching the pilot looking at it through a filter that's slightly different than the filter through which I looked when I was making it because the world shifted. The world shifted between when I started making Bourne Identity and when it came out because 9/11 happened. In fact, my writer, Tony Gilroy, after 9/11 told me and told the studio that Bourne Identity was now irrelevant and no one would ever watch it because who wants to see a movie that is paranoid and cynical about the CIA? Now because of 9/11, the whole country is ra ra ra behind the United States and CIA. The world changed and made Bourne Identity irrelevant. Obviously, he was wrong but I'm no stranger to when you do stories that are connected to the real world that are honest, you have to accept that paradigm shifts and shifts in the zeitgeist of the world will have an effect on how people watch what you've created.

There's a point where Clay is still in the hospital and doesn't remember the incident. Henry decides not to tell him he assaulted her. Is she still struggling with whether to confront Clay about it?

Well, I love the complexity of the situation. There's no easy answer here. That's more the world we live in. Movies can't necessarily live in the world of gray because you've got to resolve it all within two hours. Whereas TV revels in the impossible gray situations where yes, he was assaulting her and yes, she teleported and turned him into a paraplegic. Both of those are true and there's no easy answer to it, how these characters resolve it.

Another complexity is when her stepsister needs a day to go through something, she's basically saying as horrible as what Henry went through is, she's not the only one with problems. Is that also a valuable message to get across in a project aimed at young people?

That's my favorite moment in the whole series. I'm glad you picked up on it. So many movies and TV series about superpowers, everything revolves around the superpower at the heart of everything. The character with the superpower is at the center of the whole story and it's so egotistical. Lauren LeFranc came up with that idea. When you watch it and Jenna's acting strange, my experience was, "Oh my God, the people after Henry have gotten to Jenna. Somehow this must have to do with Henry." It turns out it has nothing to do with Henry. Not only is that such a refreshing approach to a show about somebody with a superpower, to have a character say, "Actually, this has nothing to do with you. I know you're the star of the show. I know the show is all about teleportation, but actually there's other people on screen and we have our own problems. Some of them have nothing to do with you." It's just so honest. It's just an honest moment. TV gives you the canvas to explore that. In a movie, that would end up on the cutting room floor. You just wouldn't have the space.

I'm as interested in Jenna, the sister of the person with the superpower, as I am in the person with the superpower. From Live Die Repeat I was just as interested in Emily Blunt's character, if not more interested in her, even though she doesn't have the superpower. Sometimes being the person next to the person with the power is the more interesting place to be. Even in Bourne Identity, I really was approaching that story from the point of view of Franka Potente. What would it be like to date Jason Bourne as opposed to what would it be like to be Jason Bourne? So in the case of Impulse, what would it be like to be the sister of the teleporter versus what would it be like to be the teleporter? I wanted to say that. Maybe because I grew up with a father who's larger than life, I kind of have this personal connection to being near the person who's super special.

Tom Cruise just started filming Top Gun: Maverick. When will he be able to do Live Die Repeat and Repeat?

It could be Tom's movie after the Top Gun sequel, but nothing firm yet.

You have some very ambitious plans for it with time travel. Are you still going to make it accessible for people who didn't see the first one?

Oh yeah, of course. That's essential.

Does time travel help because you can literally show what happened before?

Or what happened before is only minimally relevant. I don't want to spoil it but you don't need to have seen the first film. There will be moments from the first film that will make appearances in this but not as a "hey, you need to watch the previous episode to follow this one." It's a complete story in its own right.

Do you feel vindicated by the title Live Die Repeat and Repeat since Live Die Repeat became the preferred title of the first movie?

Yes. Yeah, for sure.

How did you get movie quality visual effects for Impulse?

I really wanted to do something different than Jumper. I had this idea that when you first start doing something, you're so sloppy at it, whatever it is. I just was in China filming and one evening I took a dumpling making class. The Chinese person teaching was making perfect dumplings. Mine were these big hard messes. Take anything, learn to play tennis, your balls are gonna go every which way. They're going to hit people. They're not going to land perfectly on the court. That would be true of teleportation. I really was interested in pursuing that and being like how messy would it be? The key to action and visual effects is to have a really strong point of view about it and a specific point of view about it. That's the bulk of the work. If you can give the action people and the visual effects people a really clear, fresh, new idea, they'll run with it and you'll get effects that are movie quality. Mostly what movies have is they have the good ideas. Or they hire the really smart people who help you come up with the good ideas. They have the budget to do that. I feel like what we had going for us on Impulse was such a cool approach to what teleportation would look like. That suddenly leads to really interesting story because the moment you make it big and sloppy and messy and violent, people around you can get hurt. Suddenly you have a whole storyline of somebody who's put into a wheelchair by her. I've always benefited from focusing on details and I've always gotten story out of it.

Is that a problem with some of the tentpole movies where their effects are too perfect and we don't believe it? If they were a little bit messier, it would seem more like real life?

Exactly. That's the big idea is the messiness of it. Part of why the car chases in Bourne feel so real is because they're messy. That was the mandate. I said I don't want it to look like James Bond. James Bond is so perfect, it could be generated by a computer. These days, if you're doing a Bond car chase, you might as well do it with computer generated cars. It would be safer. It would look the same or better. But if you're doing a Bourne Identity car chase, you've got to do it for real and you've got to smash those cars up. You can't fake that. A computer can't do that yet. It's more visceral and exciting for the audience, especially an audience that's used to watching action on YouTube now. That's who I'm competing against. When I'm designing an action sequence, I'm watching stuff on YouTube because people are going out there and doing outrageous stunts and filming themselves. Our audience, obviously in Impulse we're actually on YouTube, but even if someone's going to the movie theater to see one of my movies, when they're not in the movie theater they're watching stuff on YouTube.

What were you shooting in China?

I was shooting a commercial in China.

Oh, so not your next movie.


If YouTube goes ahead with a second season of Impulse would you direct more?

Yeah, I wanted to direct more in the first season. It's just because I was shooting Chaos Walking, I wasn't able to. Lauren's scripts were so amazing that I was jealous of other people getting to go shoot them. We have a really cool idea for season two that was so cool I wanted to put it in season one. It really didn't make sense but I want to be the one to put it on screen.

So you won't be a hands off showrunner?

No, it's too personal. This show is way too personal.