If there’s anything that Inception did – apart from make Christopher Nolan even more millions of dollars to add to his already overflowing Batvault – it was to show that audiences liked their sci-fi with a bit of intellectual rigour. Yes, we’re still crying out for loads of cool futuristic weapons and impressive visions of what cities will look like 50 years from now. But, please: give us a few clever ideas while you’re at it. Looper is stuffed full of mind-bending concepts that takes in time travel, alternate realities, telekinesis and – perhaps most unfathomable of all – the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to turn into Bruce Willis when he gets older.
2044. In 30 years time-travel will be invented. It will also be highly illegal. The technology will be used by the criminals of the future to send those they want disposed of into the past (as getting rid of a body is nigh on impossible in the future). The poor victim is sent into the past and – seconds after appearing – is blasted into oblivion. The people who carry out these shootings are ‘Loopers’. One of these is Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who has a deceptively simple life: turn up at a location, kill the masked mark after it appears out of nowhere, collect the silver attached to the body, throw body into fire and then go and take drugs and party. But, like all in his profession, one day Joe will have his loop closed. When he finds gold instead of silver on his deceased victim it means one thing: it’s his future self and his life as a Looper is over. He now has 30 years to live before the circle closes. But unsurprisingly, his future self (Bruce Willis) has other plans and – after arriving in the past – manages to escape his younger self. It soon transpires older Joe is not just on the run - he wants to kill a child who will grow up and become responsible for taking over the world. As younger Joe tries to find his older self’s targets, he arrives on a farm and soon becomes involved with the owner and her son. But – in a future in which telekinetic powers have emerged – the time-travel is just the beginning of the story.
A vein of gallows humour manages to lighten what is often a dark and sombre movie
And if that made your brain hurt, the above is just a simplified version of the story. The film makes a virtue of its own inherent complexity veering from long swathes of exposition to deciding to gloss over some of the more problematic ideas (a fact lampshaded by Older Joe when he says “I don’t want to talk about that time travel shit, it just makes my brain hurt,”). Whilst there’s a certain amount of fridge logic (when, after the film, you go to the fridge to get a beer and go ‘But wait a minute, why didn’t he do this and why did that happen?’) there’s a vitality of ideas that makes you forgive it’s more convoluted moments. Unique scenes such as a ‘reverse’ torture sequence (where someone in the past is tortured and you see their future selves gradually bear the scars of what is happening in the past) are clever whilst there’s also a vein of gallows humour that manages to lighten what is often a dark and sombre movie. As with many current sci-fi movies you can’t help but notice the influence of various antecedents including Blade Runner, Robocop and – indeed – Inception – another moment that is gleefully lampshaded when a future mob boss (played by Jeff Daniels) begs Joe to stop copying the movies and dressing in 20th century clothes and instead to “Put a glowing thing around your neck or something.”
Director Rian Johnson (previously responsible for the little seen, but excellent con movie The Brothers Bloom) manages to balance the first half of the film with ideas and some taut and relatively violent action sequences. But when the action moves to young Joe protecting the farm of Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son from his future self, the film somewhat loses its way. Its introduction of new ideas, characters and even genres unbalances things somewhat and whilst there are also some excellent moments, it does start to drag near the end.
Looper manages to be a creditable and exciting sci-fi flick that homages the past while carving out a unique identity
Gordon-Levitt continues to solidify his status as a major Hollywood player and does the whole ‘amoral hero’ thing to a tee and – as with much of the cast of the film – plays around with notions of right and wrong and moral responsibility. However, he is made up to look like he could plausibly be a younger Bruce Willis and the effect is rather disconcerting at points, as if Gordon-Levitt has been replaced by a version of himself meant for a PS3 game. Willis also does well managing to play what is ostensibly a villainous role will retaining sympathy for his motives. And, considering that Blunt only appears in the latter half of the film, she manages to create quite a presence as if Sarah Conner had lived on the Little House on The Prairie.
While it sometimes feels like it’s trying to do much, Looper manages to be a creditable and exciting sci-fi flick that homages the past while carving out a unique identity. Given the love of Hollywood has for cannibalising itself, it will be less than 30 years before we see it again so enjoy it while it all seems relatively fresh.
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