Set in the not-too-distant future, Looper has elements of the Terminator series (traveling back in time to change the future), The X Men series (mutants with telekentic powers), and Pulp Fiction (criminal assassins), with a little Blade Runner thrown in.

As with so many science fiction movies, the future in Looper is pretty grim, with a wealthy few and mobs of homeless people roaming the streets. Crime lords run the cities.

A group of executioners, called “Loopers”, kill people who are sent back in time from the further future, when time travel has been invented. The premise is that it’s really difficult to hide a body due to “tagging” in the future, so criminals send them to the past to be killed by a Looper and disposed of there.

Joseph-Gordon Levitt (the kid from Third Rock from the Sun and 500 Days of Summer) plays Joe, one of the Loopers and narrator of the film.

The premise of sending people back in time to be executed is very dramatically portrayed in Looper, but it has a lot of problems if you think about it too much. Using a time machine to dispose of bodies seems a strange use of the technology, when you could instead use it to accumulate an infinite amount of money in the stock market, betting on sports, etc. Would crime even be necessary at that point??

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure acknowledges this “problem” in a humorous way when the find a gun right when they need it, and say they’ll later go back in time and put it there. Basically, if you have time travel, you are almost omnipotent against your enemies and you can have almost anything you want whenever you need it.

Furthermore, reviewers on the Internet have asked, “why not just send them further back in time before humans were even around and let them die there?” (Maybe there is some limit to how far back the time machine will go?)

Then there are the dilemmas and paradoxes that plague all time travel movies. One way to resolve this is to say that there are multiple (or an infinite) amount of future outcomes, and going to the past can change what present reality. This is the premise of the Back to the Future movies where people go back in time, mess things up, and the hero has to go back to set it right again (actually, better than it was before). This is the way things work in Looper too, and it brings up paradoxes that can turn your brain to mush, which Looper readily acknowledges.

The other, perhaps more scientifically-accepted theory, is that there is only one timeline, and it can’t be changed. Any time travel that happens is consistent with the timeline. For example, if you send a Terminator back to kill John Connor when he is a child, you know it won’t work, because he already grew up to be an adult in the timeline. (That wouldn’t be as much fun for this movie though.)

But I have digressed from Looper for too long, because as long as you disregard these paradoxes, it really is an engrossing movie with an excellent and unexpected ending.

Overall, Looper has plenty of action and suspense. Some online reviewers have complained about “slow sections” and frankly I don’t know what they’re talking about. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie.

Sci-fi films are not known for great acting, but the actors shine in this movie in my opinion. “The kid from Third Rock”, Gordon-Levitt, has grown up and can hold his own as a gangster. I didn’t even recognize him at first, because his appearance has been altered subtly in order to make him look more like Bruce Willis, who plays his older self. Willis plays the same role he always does in action movies (with a darker twist), but that’s what he’s good at. Emily Blunt, who plays a single mom, and Pierce Gagnon, who plays her son, are also excellent.

One word of warning though. Looper is extremely violent, with a high body count, lots of executions by shotgun, and some torture. It might be off-putting to some. I found the violence to be somewhat disturbing, with much more of it than, say, Pulp Fiction, has.

Overall, if you don’t think about the plot problems I’ve described above too much, you’ll find the human aspects story to be beyond the caliber of most sci-fi. The movie could have been ruined or saved by the ending, but fortunately it is the latter. Looper doesn’t take the easy way out that most action movies do, and I was not expecting that. The fine ending is what sets this movie apart and it’s what motivated me to write this review.

As a sci-fi movie enthusiast, I believe Looper deserves a place right up there with the Terminator series, Blade Runner, and the X-Men, if not higher. But, the primary appeal to me is not the sci-fi aspect, but the story, which focuses on human relationships, self-sacrifice, and parenting, oddly enough. It has gotten very good reviews across the board, so I’m not out a limb here. I would highly recommend Looper, as long as you can get through the violence.

Looper (2012)
Directed by Rian Johnson
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

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