Predestination is sci-fi genre fare at its most confusing. There is no “getting it” because it doesn’t make any sense, and never once does it intend to. This is a film that will make your brain hurt without purpose.
The problem? Well, it’s a time travel movie. Time travel movies are always tricky because the very notion of time travel is ridiculous. There’s always going to be a narrative hole–that dreaded paradox–and it’s almost impossible to ignore.
But that’s not really the problem with Predestination. Time travel is fun, after all, and several excellent movies have been made around the concept, paradox be damned. The difference is that these successful films give us something else to worry about. Case and point: The Terminator, probably the king-daddy of paradox exploitation. Would it have been nearly as good had there not been a killer cyborg from the future hunting down Sarah Connor? There’s no way.
It doesn’t stop there–imagine Back to the Future without Marty McFly trying to hook his parents up with one another. The whole basis of his existence is impossible, but did you really worry about that? Hell no! You had too much fun watching him skirt away from his mother. And what would Looper have been like without the cat-and-mouse interaction between Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt? It would have been bland. Bland, bland, bland.
And that, my friends, is the biggest issue I have with Predestination: it doesn’t have a distraction. There is nary any action, and while the story itself is undoubtedly interesting, it doesn’t add up to anything. There is no glooming dread, no grand finale, no real adventure. It is the snippet of an idea, nothing more and nothing less.
Because of this, moments that are meant to be surprising end up predictable. If M. Night Shyamalan has taught us anything, it is that twists really can’t make a story, and relying on them is a fools errand. I figured everything out well before the credits began to roll, and I suspect others will too.
You’ve probably noticed that I have spent most of this review complaining about the story without actually summarizing it. This is no accident. Truth is, I can’t effectively divulge any plot points without giving the whole thing away. There just isn’t that much happening in Predestination, and once you’re given the gist of things, the reasons to watch it go from general curiousity down to zilch.
But hey, you can’t knock em’ for trying. The Spierig Brothers know how to make a good looking film, and Predestination is watchable fare. It also has a significant saving grace in its two lead performances. Ethan Hawke is, as per usual, able to ooze empathy from his character. The real star, however, is Sarah Snook, who plays multiple roles in a seemingly effortless manner. Future filmmakers should really keep an eye on her: she’s got the stuff, and then some.
Alas, wonderful performances can’t save a script that isn’t necessarily bad so much as it is empty. Predestination is the film equivalent of Penrose stairs, and like those “impossible steps,” it boasts an interesting idea that’s initially very compelling. Give your mind a minute to process everything though, and you’ll realize how nonsensical–and ultimately forgettable–it all really is.