Looper is basically the love child of Inception, Back to the Future and Bruce Willis, though a slightly inferior product. It has the intelligence and the 'continuous revelation' style of storytelling as Inception, it tries to tackle the semantics of time travel, all the while delivering the virtually mindless action of people shooting at Bruce. I think by this movie he has probably starred in the same role over 50 movies, the only difference this time is that he used guns more than his body for the fights. In fact he's basically just playing John McClane in this movie, though he actually does die. I am growing tired of his character in the genre, but I don't see many better alternatives in the horizon so I'll just smile when the director subtly pokes fun at Bruce's other movies.
I enjoyed the film during the screening though the second and third act felt really uneven in its pacing as well as the overall atmosphere. The opening shot was brilliant, and was just that: Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) shoots his mark right on schedule, no hesitation; like a boss. Those first 2 minutes of the movie basically set the tone for the first act. It was shocking, it was cold, it was exactly what the trailers indicated the film would be like.
Unlike Total Recall, which shows us its vision of the future, Looper tells us through Joe's monologue, and through an almost POV approach to establish the environment where the fights and climax are (where we expect) to take place later. The future portrayed is perhaps closer to home but we mostly see two extremes: the slum-like, crime-infested underworld of urban city, and the traditional farmland lightly fashioned with hovering watering systems that would make FarmVille enthusiasts (addicts) jealous.
In this respect I think the film doesn't do very well, at least in the sense of creating a conceivable future. There is little explanation of why the future from the perspective of the plot's setting becomes seemingly totalarian where no one can escape the eyes of the government or law enforcement (imagine Google becoming the world leader and abolishes privacy). I say this because the whole purpose of the Looper program as described by Joe is to get rid of people in the past where killing and hiding corpses is much easier.
Unfortunately we only had one fast-tracked view of Joe's first time through the story's space time continuum (where he does kill his older self and enjoys his 30 years before being captured and sent back). It happens so fast that most people were trying more to follow Joe's 30 years than to appreciate details of the world as it progresses to the future from which old Joe is sent back. The rest of the future is left for us to imagine after a very basic description, mostly describing the crime syndicate than what the rest of the world is like. Maybe that's the idea but lets move on.
Both Willis and Gordon-Levitt's performances were good, though not great, and I honestly felt they could have shared some more dialogues and played around with the whole "how will I become you". I guess the idea was that Willis is a reformed, reborn man after having met his Chinese wife some time in the future, having been rehabilitated from recreational drugs and also ended his life as a hitman. That's another thing, if he's stopped fighting for like 7 years prior to being sent back into the past for his execution how is he still so good, taking down not only his younger self but also the entire looper organisation? I guess it's because he's BRUCE WILLIS! Ahh, beautiful 80's action cliches.
While I enjoyed this film, the movie does have problems.
The first problem I had was this whole idea of the "Rainmaker", who is basically a kid born with exceptional telekinesis ability mostly drawn out during emotional situations. I think his name was Syd or something. So old Joe, after dispatching his executioners in the future, still chooses to travel back in time so that he can kill the Rainmaker, who in 2044 was still a kid living on a farm with his stepmum/aunt. By the end of the film we learn that it is because old Joe kills his mother during the confrontation that he harbors anger and hatred, thus motivating him to step up the crime ladder and creating the Looper program. This closes the continuum's loop and prompts young Joe to kill himself to rid everyone of the horrible future that would have eventuated.
Putting aside the farfetched idea of '10% of people mutating to have telekinesis' (X-Men ripoff), if the Rainmaker does become so powerful that he not only controls all criminal activities in the future, but also destroys entire cities using his telekinesis, why didn't he send more protection for his own younger self? Or save his mum from old Joe? The science in the film's world indicates it follows the self-consistency principle of time travel the closest, so he knows whatever he changes in the past will immediately affect his future rather than branch off to another parallel timeline (i.e. there is one reality, one spacetime continuum and all paradoxes created by time travellers will resolve itself). I mean if they were okay to send back Abe permanently (head of the present day looper organisation), I would assume the Rainmaker could have given instructions to Abe to keep an eye out for, well, the film's equivalent of the anti-Christ. Just saying.
The second problem, and probably a more serious problem from a storytelling point of view, is the disconnection between the young Joe's life and the old Joe's life, especially the love interests. There were zero attempts to try and reconcile them. First we are shown Joe has a lover in the present day, whom later we discover had a child old Joe hesitates to kill. Then we are shown that Joe has a wife in the future (different girl), but then as the story progresses in the second half Joe meets and gets in bed with Sara (farm mum). We get a brief scene showing that old Joe's memories are being modified to include these encounters and yet somehow still end up meeting his future wife, but this is never addressed in the busyness of dealing with the other loopers and trying to kill Seth (the kid version of the Rainmaker).
Through most of the second act as young Joe becomes acquainted with Sara I was honestly led to believe old Joe's life was gradually eroding due to the decreasing likelihood he would follow the same retirement path. Also he was fairly clean of drugs by the climax so there wouldn't be a need for old Joe to have someone clean him up 25 years down the track! Also the fact that young Joe made out with Sara I basically assumed that old Joe would not have a future with the Chinese lady any more. I think Rian Johnson (director) was aware of this flaw in his final cut, as he does add a scene at the end where Sara closes young Joe's pocket watch without revealing the photo side. Hmm actually young Joe wouldn't have that photo yet since it's only the old Joe who has encountered her in the future, so this scene might have been pointless. Never mind.
The third and biggest annoyance to me (before I move onto nitpicking) was Kid Blue, the young looper who is head of the "gat-man" and also tries desperately to impress Abe. This character was fairly pointless in the first half, seems to be young Joe's lesser rival and a relatively high up in the organisation. Through the entire film he is ridiculed, undervalued and tossed aside by Abe because of his incompetency. He later tries to earn Abe's approval by capturing old Joe on his own, which in turn led to the death of everyone in the looper organisation except himself. And furthermore, he pursues young Joe near the farm and ends up dying. And that's his story arc finished. In fact we don't even see him die with any dramatic facial expression. He is literally gunned down and the next scene is his corpse lying somewhere in the bottom left corner of the scene since our cameraman is focusing back on both Joes. Almost like "gosh that guy was a nuisance, now back to business."
There were a few scenes which hinted at a possibly deeper relationship between Abe and Kid Blue, suggesting either that Abe is Kid Blue's older self, or that Kid Blue was Abe's first pick. However this is neither explored nor confirmed, and even when he finds Abe dead there is no establishing shot of what their relationship might have been or were. This really really bugged me because aside from the main characters he was the only other character that had strong motivations, significant dialogue and screen time, so I wanted him to be more critical to the story's development.
Actually, Kid Blue reminds me of that Andrew Brandt from Equilibrium. He basically brings the protagonist (if I can call old Joe a protagonist) into the headquarters to their detriment. However in the larger picture he is neither remembered nor important from any of the characters' perspective. But thanks to his overzealousness we managed to get Bruce Willis in the middle of a group of bad guys. He will not leave without an incident.
But most of these problems are relatively minor compared to the enjoyment the film did bring me. The idea is cool, the acting is well done, anything that replicates Inception successfully deserves respect, and having Bruce Willis single-handedly take down all the bad guys, always a pleasure. I would say I enjoyed this more than the other films I've seen this year (except The Avengers), though far less than the films I believe it to be inspired by. Ultimately, time travel stories are hard to get right, if ever, and when you put Bruce Willis in the middle of it you know things are going to get ugly, but mostly in a good way.
6.0 / 10.0