This is a line uttered by one of the characters in Looper and pretty much sums up the problem with time travel films. They don’t make a huge amount of sense and the more you think about them, the less sense they make. Looper suffers from the same problem, but if you can just sit back and take the film at face value without trying to analyse it to within an inch of its life, then there’s a decent sci-fi action film with an intriguing premise.
Thirty years in the future, time travel has been invented and immediately outlawed. However, it’s still used by the criminal underworld to dispose of targets who are sent back and killed by hired hitmen or Loopers. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper who breaks the most important rule – don’t let your target get away. Joe’s predicament is made all the more complicated when he discovers that the person sent back for him to kill is actually his future self. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) has engineered the time travel himself in order to kill a child who will grow up to be an organised crime leader known as The Rainmaker who caused the death of his wife. When young Joe becomes emotionally involved with the child’s mother (Emily Blunt), he has some tough decisions to make about whether to protect his own future or that of an innocent child.
Looper does an excellent job of creating a believable universe that’s not too removed from the one we live in, but removed enough to have a unique futuristic vibe. It looks superb throughout; writer and director Rian Johnson has done an excellent job of realising However, the time it takes to establish this universe is at the expense of the narrative, particularly in the film’s first third. There is a lot of playing around with the time travel and the subject of Loopers that never really goes anywhere and feels little more than a showcase of the films central ideas, albeit it in a fun and fast-paced way. It’s not for quite a while that old Joe actually shows up and the narrative gets some driving force.
Oddly, when the narrative starts to move forward, the pace of the film actually slows and we’re invited to invest more in the characters than the overall plot. This is particularly the case once we meet Emily Blunt’s character, Sara, and her son Cid who old Joe believes will grow up to become The Rainmaker. In fact, it’s Sara and Cid who actually offer the most emotional involvement in the film. Both young and old Joe aren’t particularly identifiable characters and their fate becomes rather less interesting than that of the young boy. Old Joe, especially, is a rather forgettable character, only really given gravitas by the presence of Bruce Willis.
About two thirds into the film, something strange happens. It sheds some of its sci-fi leanings and adopts a horror element that brings it closer to films such as Children of the Corn. This takes it in a direction different to that painted by what’s occurred previously, which may not be to everyone’s tastes. At times it feels like the film is having some kind of identity crisis, unsure of what it wants to be, although it manages to keep on track just enough to maintain overall focus.
Some have said that Looper is ‘the new Matrix’ but those claims are a little misguided. It doesn’t have the originality of the Wachowski’s 1999 mindbender but is still a worthy addition to the sc-fi genre, more akin to the likes of Twelve Monkeys, although again, not quite up to those standards. Yes there are plot holes if you go looking for them and plenty to debate but if you enjoy the film for what it is and put the urge to pick it to pieces to one side, then it’s a movie with plenty of merit even if it fails to be the classic many predicted it would be.