In the next sixty years, if we’re to believe the boffo set-up of Rian Johnson’s Looper, not only is time travel invented and perfected, it also becomes so dangerous that it’s outlawed. Without getting into too much of a discussion about the Butterfly Effect, it’s easy to see why. One little change can have world-altering ramifications. At least in theory.

The whole concept of time travel is on such shaky ground that it’s ridiculously easy for filmmakers to make mistakes and raise head-scratcher questions about parallel timelines. But putting all that aside, Johnson’s entry into the time travel genre actually holds up well, so long as you can just sit back and try to keep everything straight.

Set in 2044, Looper revolves around Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young man hired by a gangster from thirty years further in the future named Abe (Jeff Daniels) to dispose of bad guys sent back in time from Abe’s 2074 world. Time travel may be illegal, but it’s still a convenient way to get rid of your enemies, apparently.

But when the mysterious (and unseen) Rainmaker takes control of the 2074 world, he starts sending all the loopers’ future selves back from 2074 to be killed, too. Which is how Joe finds himself one day, gun-at-the-ready, staring his older self (Bruce Willis) in the face– with orders to finish him off.

Old Joe escapes from his younger self, though, and runs off to get revenge on The Rainmaker (who is just a boy in 2044) for a particularly tragic event that Old Joe would like to get reversed.

Still with me?

Abe finds out about the ‘open loop’ and sics his army on young Joe, who is hiding out at a nearby farmhouse with single mom Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). And the race is on to see which Joe can kill which first.

Johnson’s premise is one of the more clever in recent years, particularly as time travel flicks go. It’s Inception by way of Back to the Future (without all that comedy and light-hearted goofiness), and it’s instantly memorable. Gordon-Levitt, complete with Willis-like prosthetics, turns in yet another top-shelf performance (seriously, this guy is on a roll for the ages), and Willis’ trademark slow burn drives each scene he’s in. Daniels is likewise great in his devilishly fun role, and Blunt, expertly adopting a Midwest farmer’s accent, hasn’t turned in a performance this fierce and intense since, well, ever.

Looper trips on itself a little toward the end when it veers into schmaltzy, emotional territory, but it quickly recovers with a jaw-dropping ending that will be talked about for quite a while.

Seeing all the disaster and tragedy it causes, you may not even want to think about the possibility of time travel by the time the closing credits start rolling, but in the moment, Looper sure takes you on one firecracker of a ride.

4/5 stars