Every once in awhile, be it in a novel, a TV show, a short story, a comic book, or a film, a piece of media comes along that, from that point on, other science fiction is judged by.
It happened when Asimov hit the scene, it happened both in the stories and even in films made from writers like Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury, and prominent television in recent years pushed science fiction back into the consciousness of the general public, with Lost, Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica making scifi something talked about once more at the water cooler or the dinner table.
"Looper" is that piece of media, and it may be the most unique and moving science fiction story of this generation.
The science fiction trappings are there. The story takes place in the future (though not too far from now), and has things like flying motorcycles and a dystopian overpopulated cesspit of a world. There is time travel, though that's actually from much farther in the future. And there are superpowers of a sorts, with "TK," short for Telekinesis, the ability to move objects with your mind, just appearing, though it's very limited, mostly to moving objects like pencils and quarters. [Gallery: Time Travel in "Looper"]
The story being marketed, featuring Bruce Willis as an aging hitman who is sent back in time to be killed by his younger self, Joseph Gordon Levitt, is present and important, but is really only half the story (and in fact, depending on how deep you look, maybe only a third of it). While the chase and ongoing struggle between the two actors playing the same role is fun and helps to keep the forward momentum, the deeper themes of selfishness, sacrifice, choice, and potential for good and evil are what will linger in your mind after seeing the film. This movie will make you think, this movie will make you feel, and while at times those feelings will be painful, you'll love it all the more when all is said and done.
The ensemble performance is incredible. Willis and Levitt play off one another like they've been doing it for years, supporting roles played by actors big and small make their mark on the film and help the pair stand out, as well. The big surprise may be Emily Blunt, who undergoes a physical and emotional transformation akin to Linda Hamilton's from Terminator to Terminator 2, but all within one film. She's strong, fierce, and loyal, and she pops off the screen in a way that few actors can.
Levitt did a little transforming himself, having clearly studied Willis's suble movements, his facial ticks and expressions, and even his general posture and walking style, and adopted them all as his own. You'll believe the two are the same man a few decades apart easily, and there are specific moments where you'll simply swear a young Bruce Willis is on the screen during Levitt's scenes.
With a stellar cast and a deep and layered story, all signs point to a solid moviegoing experience. It's lucky, then, that Writer/Director Rian Johnson took those things and brought it all together. This story, with its mind-bending twists and turns and its heavy, sad undertones, could weigh itself down. Luckily, the pacing never struggles, the mood bends but doesn't break, and there's just enough hope to allow a glimmer of a smile by the end of the film.
This movie is difficult to discuss without spoiling the big twists, as they are really what makes it soar. Suffice to say, this is a film that almost requires multiple viewings — not because it doesn't make sense or leave an impact the first time, instead precisely because of the impact it leaves. Can this film put Rian Johnson's name into the same breath as some of the all-time scifi greats? Yes, and I can't wait to see it again and again (and what he does next).