Looper 2012 ★★★½

Writer-director Rian Johnson made a splash with his genre mash-up debut, Brick, before struggling with his muddled sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom. Rather than paring things back Johnson stubbornly ploughed forward with another ambitious, mind bending extravaganza. Although I’ve had to admire his playful blending of genres and styles I’ve never quite bought wholeheartedly into vision - until now.

Looper is still a film that suffers from the director’s familiar problems - too ambitious and too unfocused - but here the ambition is matched with an energy that is infectious. Rian Johnson has managed to take elements from every major, and not so major, sci-fi film of the past thirty years, stick them together and then, miraculously, made it work. Whilst you could spend the entire film spotting these references you’d end up missing the fun ride laid out before you. It is a film that takes the characters and audience on a rollercoaster, ride traveling through time, future cities and throwing in a number of familiar ‘what if’ time travel dilemmas but exploring them from unfamiliar angles.

At heart this is a big budget spectacle with an independent spirit. The special effects and film’s scale are impressive but the tricksy plotting and rules of time travel never overshadow the characters. The opening effectively, and rather brutally, establishes the world and rules of the Loopers whilst the bulk of the film is given the time to breathe and develop relationships and explore the themes. Pleasingly the film touches on some dark areas - characters you are supposed to care about push moral boundaries to the limit without losing the audience’s sympathies. Whilst there is probably less action in the film than the trailers implied when things do kick off the violence is delivered swiftly and imaginatively and unlike recent action forays it proves that Willis still can produce the goods when needed to.

The decision to put Gordon-Levitt under considerable prosthetic work is both strange and a constant, and needless, distraction. Personally I would have found it far easier to believe he was a young Willis without make-up, particularly when he still doesn’t look like a younger, hairier Bruce with it anyway. It is a shame to be taken out of the film this way when Gordon-Levitt’s performance is so good. Whilst his face might be more Sin City’s Marv the performance behind the mask is undeniably Willis. It is amazing how brilliantly he captures his co-star whilst still managing to avoid broad caricature. It is nice to see Willis in this sort of role again too even if he has less screen time than was expected.

It isn’t a flawless film - it throws in a few too many sci-fi elements that border on the silly, the ending, whilst making sense, was disappointingly predictable and it can lack focus at times - but it is bold, exciting, occasionally provocative and hits way more marks than it misses. Sometimes being over-ambitious isn’t such a bad thing.