In 2009, it looked as if we might be on the cusp of a golden age of science fiction in TV and film. Battlestar Galactica was wrapping up its award-winning, five-year run and the big-screen Star Trek reboot proved to be a surprisingly enjoyable return to form.
Two other movies, Moon and District 9, reminded viewers that science fiction can be about heart and humanity, not just hardware.
That new dawn proved elusive though as there hasn't been much lately for those who crave some brain power along with their effects-driven firepower. Now comes Looper, the time-travel tease from indie director/writer Rian Johnson ( Brick, The Brothers Bloom) that is an immensely fun yet thought-provoking ride.
The ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a hit man living 30 years in the future whose job it is to execute other criminals sent through a time machine from his future. He erases their past, and what would have been their future ceases to exist. Case closed.
But then he comes face to face with his older self (Bruce Willis), who is sent back to be disposed of. This is where Looper is most intriguing -- Willis and Gordon-Levitt engage in a tense standoff in which they talk about what was, what will be and what may never be.
Where Looper begins to teeter off the track is when it sacrifices this one-on-one intensity for special effects, a potential love interest (Emily Blunt) and a plot involving telekinesis. (Though, to be fair, their inclusion means we get one really cool death scene.)
And, as with most time-travel sagas, you can't think about the details of how this world works too much -- or about Gordon-Levitt's Willis-mimicking makeover -- without giving yourself a migraine.
Still, there's enough here to make you think maybe that promised golden age hasn't been derailed, just delayed.