This week the sci-fi hit that’s been described as this year’s “Inception” gets the Friday Review treatment. Except I never got round to posting this yesterday so it’s getting the Saturday Review treatment instead.
So, Looper! The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same character, Joe. It’s mostly set in 2044, where time travel has not yet been invented. Time travel gets invented in 2074 where it is immediately outlawed. Criminal organisations find it difficult to kill people off in 2074 because all bodies are tracked so they send them back in time to 2044 for people to kill them. That’s what Joe is, a Looper. When the bosses want to end a Looper’s contract they send the future version of the Looper back in time for the younger version of the Looper to kill. Of course Old Joe manages to get away and that means Young Joe is in all sorts of trouble.
Yeah, it’s pretty complicated but much easier to understand that Inception. As a Doctor Who fan I followed most of it pretty easily although I didn’t understand the ending properly for a while. Probably the best thing about Looper is that though it’s a sci-fi film, it doesn’t go overboard on the sci-fi stuff. For the majority of the film it’s an action film which just happens to feature two versions of the same characters. There is also another sci-fi element in the form of 10% of the population have telekinesis powers which becomes a more important part of the story towards the end. This element might have worked well in a fully sci-fi film but in this one it felt out of place and a bit pointless. The telekinesis bit is what separates this film from a absolutely fantastic one to a very good one.
The part of this film that had to be got right was the characterisation. Physically Gordon-Levitt and Willis aren’t very convincing as the same person, despite some prosthetics and a fast-forward scene which sees Joe age and gradually go bald. Fortunately they are both great actors and it’s through their personality that the two characters are more convincing as one character. It’s quite interesting because Joe changes a lot between the two stages of his existence yet is still ultimately the same. Young Joe hates his older self and cannot empathise at all. Old Joe seems to be a much better, more under control person yet what he does is more shocking than anything Young Joe does.
Looper does some very clever things. One is when it shows an example of what happens when a Looper’s older self escapes. We know that the young Looper has been captured and we see the older him running for his life as parts of his body gradually disappear. It’s quite obvious that the young Looper is undergoing horrific things yet we only see the effects rather than the process. There’s also a bit when Old Joe first appears in 2044 which we see a few times over as paradoxes happen and we learn about Joe’s life. It’s clever in a sci-fi way but also works brilliantly for the story-telling.
Before I give my final verdict, here’s what proper critics are saying:
Total Film: The best sci-fi movie since Moon. The best time-travel yarn since 12 Monkeys. And one of the best films of 2012. You’ll immediately want to see it again. 5 stars.
The Guardian: A dizzying and exciting time-travel thriller. 4 stars.
Den of Geek: In Looper, Rian Johnson runs riot, and his enthusiasm for storytelling and science fiction is infectious. His film throws numerous bold ideas into its two-hour duration, and although not all of them sit comfortably beside each other, it’s impossible to fault the scale of its ambition, or its power to entertain. 4 stars.
Cultbox: With its relatively small scale and restrained denouement, Looper is no sci-fi epic on the scale of The Matrix or even Twelve Monkeys. But its smart, twisty, well worked out plot makes it an unusual take on the familiar time travel format. 4 stars.
My thoughts are that it’s a great concept which is so close to being one of the best sci-fi films ever, but the silliness of the telekinesis and a fairly underwhelming ending mean it doesn’t quite reach those heights. I give it 4 Stars.