Director reunites with Joseph Gordon-Levitt to deliver Looper, a very different type of film to their previous collaboration, the cult indie Brick.
Or is it?
Because Looper, despite promoted as yet another sci-fi action flick, shares much with the indie mentality of believable characters, a constantly-developing story and the marrying of great actors with great material. Johnson's script is full of great scenes, whether it be the stand-out diner confrontation between Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his older self (Bruce Willis) or the emotional revelation from a troubled mother (Emily Blunt) about her 'special' child.
Johnson also manages to cram in enough original and clever ideas to ensure Looper remains a science-fiction film, as opposed to being an excuse for action like recent offerings (In Time, Prometheus, John Carter, Total Recall, Cowboys & Aliens and the rest). Not that the action is lacking. There is plenty to keep mainstream audiences munching on their popcorn, as Willis fires dual machines guns and henchmen ride flying motorbikes. But genre-wise, Looper is closer in-line with Duncan Jones' Source Code and happily addresses the sci-fi elements of time-trickery. For example, a particularly innovative scene features a character rapidly losing their limbs because his past self is being brutally maimed by a torturer. Very clever, very haunting.
Johnson is equally capable of holding the camera, as well as the pen, and he assembles his film with the skill that you would expect from a previous winner of the Sundance Jury Prize for Originality of Vision. Like the recent Dredd, Johnson creates a believable futuristic world with a relatively low budget. The exposition-heavy opening is also expertly-crafted. Using a combination of voice-overs, montages and narrative flow, Johnson manages to establish an alternative future, introduce characters and teach the audience about 'closing the loop' and telepathy without ever sounding like a lecture.
Looper's greatest strength is its story, which will not be spoiled in this review. Suffice it to say, the twists and turns will keep the audience hooked. It is genuinely hard to guess where the story is going (a rare find in cinema today), even more so when the action relocates to a corn-farm for the second half of the film.
A final mention must be given to the cast. Joseph Gordon-Levitt further cements his leading-man status, now adding action hero to his CV. He also perfects the trademark smirk of a young Bruce Willis. Meanwhile, Willis himself proves that he can still dispatch a room full of henchmen but equally reminds audiences that, unlike the rest of the Expendables, he can actually act. But most impressive is child actor, Pierce Gagnon, who holds his own against all of the grown-ups and steals a fair few scenes himself.
Looper is a refreshing genre-bending marvel: part-blockbuster, part-science-fiction, part indie. It looks set to win over the Friday night crowd and the film critics alike, whilst Johnson edges towards becoming an established name in Hollywood.
Here's hoping we don't have to wait another four years for the next Rian Johnson film.