Thursday, October 4, 2012

Does Looper Work? A Spoilerful Review

I went to see Looper on Wednesday. I was looking forward to it because of the cast and the general buzz it has been attracting. Watching the movie, there was quite a bit to like, but there was a lot of it that screamed of poor story telling.

Major spoilers ahead.

Things to like were Bruce Willis turning in a nuanced performance. This is the Bruce Willis of The Fifth Element and 12 Monkeys, not Surrogates. There’s a lot to like about that. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s young Bruce was disconcerting at first but when you saw them together, you got what a good job he did of it.
On the whole, there’s good use of the implications of time travel, particularly in the instant effects of torture in the present on a future self. If we ever do get time travel, I pray it is not controlled by the Syndicates. The interplay of young and old Bruce, the dodging around issues that might reveal future history to the younger self, the rescue of young Bruce by old Bruce, all of these things were classic time travel conundrums and well-executed.

Unfortunately, things not to like about this movie outweighed the rest. Which really made me feel disappointed, because I went into the movie wanting it to be great.

First off we start with the voiceover. This criticism is not just levelled at Looper. I think if you reviewed movies over the last 40 or so years, there would be a preponderance of SF movies that utilise the intro voiceover or the screen full of rolling text. At bottom it’s lazy storytelling. Ridley Scott inserted the voiceover in Blade Runner only because he was forced to. I can’t remember off-hand if the scrolling text about the replicants was in the director’s cut, but if it was that counts against Scott. The Terminator movies are also guilty and a whole host of A grade and B grade SF movies. Maybe it’s just a pet hate and I’m being oversensitive. (God, Equilibrium is the worst!) Let’s move on.

The first mention of TK powers threw me. Again it was explained with a voiceover which instantly made me feel it was tacked on. It wasn’t relevant to the story unfolding to that point. I assumed it was introduced as a ‘point of difference’ to reinforce for the viewer that we were in the future, despite the fact that the surroundings in this world were quite familiar to us early Twenty-First Century dwellers. The story returned to its pleasing exposition of the looper’s life. We all knew something bad was going to go down and it did.

One thing that did jar about the time travel aspect, was how the timeline split was handled. It had to happen for the story, but there was zero explanation, and that was a distinct weakness. First time around, old Bruce is late for the turn-up, evades being killed by young Bruce then escapes. After some running around we suddenly jump back in time and old Bruce is killed by young Bruce. Then we see the first divergence from old Bruce’s eyes. I understand the second scene was necessary so young Bruce could live out his 30 years and become old Bruce, but the precursor events that led to the split – old Bruce escaping and old Bruce dying – were not adequately explained and/ or demonstrated unless I missed something. Am I wrong here? I’m happy to be wrong, if that’s the case.

My main difficulties however come with the Rainmaker storyline. We hear the Rainmaker (RM) has taken over in the future, bringing a reign (rain, ha ha) of terror and destroying the Syndicates. He (or she) is ‘closing all the loops’. Old Bruce has the intel to track down RM in the past. He wants to kill the young RM to prevent his one true love from being killed. I can buy that. Solid characterisation.

But the whole RM story in the ‘present’ feels very tacked on. The work wasn’t done to really integrate it into young Bruce’s motivations. There is no way young Bruce can get back into the good graces of the looper bosses. He is unbelievably naive to think that, given what he (and we) have witnessed. Yet he continues to hang around Emily Blunt’s farm (the young RM is in her care there) while old Bruce tracks down the other two ‘RM possibles’ born on the same day in the same hospital. He knows old Bruce will come to the farm eventually but, again, why should he care? From his character’s point of view, the best thing he could do is GET OUT OF TOWN! Something old Bruce tells him again and again. I know, characters in movies (and stories) sometimes do things that are stupid. But when they do things that are unbelievably stupid, that’s when the viewer/ reader begins to question the story.

Akin to the voiceover is the obligatory sex scene between the handsome male lead and the beautiful female lead. There was even less reason for this to occur here than in other movies of this ilk, and I think the director/ writer knew it in the very peremptory way it was dealt with. Did the studio demand it? I don’t know. It made no sense for the characters and did nothing to progress the story.

Anyway, after a very satisfying bloodbath where old Bruce gets medieval on the looper boss’s ass, there is the inevitable confrontation at the farm. Old Bruce is coming to kill the young RM (a great performance from the kid, by the way: creepily cute). As I said, I have no problem with old Bruce’s motivation, but in order to ‘save the child’ young Bruce kills himself and old Bruce vanishes in a puff of paradox. Yes, dramatic (although a bit of a downer Hollywood-wise, and I applaud the makers for doing that), BUT there was no convincing rationale for young Bruce to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’.

Okay, he liked the kid. But he was a stone killer. Maybe it was because he really dug Emily Blunt. But was that one night of peremptory sex enough to kill yourself over? The only other rationale is that young Bruce wants to stop the RM in the future from destroying the Syndicates and closing all the loops. But that doesn’t make any sense either. Young Bruce holds no allegiance to the Syndicates, now or in the future. He wasn’t particularly chummy with the other loopers, except for that one guy, which – oh yeah – he betrayed. If he really thought about it he’d be better off letting old Bruce kill the kid. That would mean his loop would not have been closed when it was, he’d fulfil his contract, live a long life, meet this really cool woman that old Bruce was banging on about and generally get old and fat – and eventually get killed by his younger self. But that was what he signed up for in the first place. Instead he kills himself and loses the next 30 years (maybe more) of his own life. Dramatic but senselessly stupid within the constructed reality of the story. Old Bruce showed again and again how smart he was. Young Bruce, not so much.

If the RM story strand had been better integrated into the looper storyline, it might have worked a whole lot better. Maybe that happened in another timestream. We’ll never know. But our Looper doesn’t stand up to close inspection.
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