Time travel movies are notoriously difficult to make and seemingly impossible to get your head around. "This time travel crap. Just fries your brain like an egg," as is uttered in the movie. Fortunately, Looper spends less time playing the What If? game and instead focuses on the characters at the heart of its story. Voice over digs past the necessary clunky exposition whereby we learn just what Loopers are and what can go wrong. Cinema has now reached a point where no-one is going to see this film without having first seen the trailer. Ergo, we'd be bored if Looper spent half an hour setting things up with subtle dialogue. Yes, that may show better writing, but it just isn't necessary - we forgive the dreaded VO as it means we can get straight into the story from the get-go.
The first thing you notice is just how clever they've been to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look strikingly like a young Bruce Willis. It's kinda unnecessary, but it works. From there, the influences become apparent - from what I can see, Blade Runner in abundance, with a dash of Twelve Monkeys. A feel of effortless noir drops onto the screen as we see Loopers go about their daily business. We're almost at the "ok, we get it - this is a cool movie!" moment when your attention is perked by a particularly disturbing scene whereby a man's body parts begin to disappear. I'll say no more....
Once things get going, the film becomes a bit of a cat-and-mouse-style race with Young Joe (Levitt) needing to kill Old Joe (Willis) so that he isn't offed by his seemingly mild-mannered boss (Jeff Daniels). Old Joe, meanwhile, sets out on a Terminator-esque search-and-destroy mission of his own.
In any other way this would be predictable and boring. But with emotionally compelling flashbacks and clever use of POV (that forces us to switch sides without noticing), we're hooked. It's not long before we realise an hour has gone by in a flash and we're well and truly invested in both Joes and their respective missions. Which is where Looper throws us a curve ball.
The movie kind of steers off in a direction you don't expect with the introduction of Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (who, like all movie kids, is ridiculously smart and witty for a 10-year-old). I should stress that this isn't a bad tangent (Sara seems to really enjoy beating the crap out of a tree trunk with an axe - there's a metaphor in there somewhere), but it changes the film completely. The cool noir seems to disintegrate and the story sags a little under necessary exposition.
It doesn't take a half-genius to work out exactly where the story is leading, which hits you with a weird combo of tense inevitability and finger-tapping tedium. While Young Joe hangs out on a farm discussing his past, Old Joe carries on in the city. We're well and truly going through the motions before the unavoidable final conflict. Fortunately, most of those motions involve seeing Bruce Willis shoot people (and not just any people!) so we're willing to stay awake.
After its slight lull, Looper comes full circle (not unlike a loop - see what they've done there?) and builds to a spectacular close. Action isn't hurled at the screen in an explosion of excitement like in some lesser movies (I'm looking at you, Michael Bay!) but the film instead focuses on the characters we are, by now, thoroughly invested in. The ending is either genius or completely ridiculous. I can't make up my mind without having my brain fried like an egg.
Overall, Looper is a solid movie. Easily better than most recent sci-fi actioners, but I expect all those 5-star reviews floating about are because expectations for this sort of film have become so low in recent years. This is no Blade Runner or Matrix. But it does a damn sight more than it needs to in order to earn a few pennies at the Box Office, which is commendable - it's good to see a sci-fi movie that is both smart and fun! Recommended.
Read more of Neil's reviews.