Predestination is flashy, frantic and bombastically intelligent-sounding, allowing the allure of brainy science fiction to distract for quite a while, but once all the time-jumping dramatics start unraveling, the Spierig brother’s latest film reveals a shallow, deceptive core. By definition, “predestination” means that any event unfolding before us has been predetermined by a higher power, making mortals nothing but simple puppets acting out scripted storylines. The Spierigs take this mentality and adapt it for the sci-fi crowd, with talk of top-secret government agencies having the power to travel about time and alter the course of history. While there’s enough parallel storytelling bouncing around for super-hardcore lovers of complexity, the Spierigs let their time-travel-obsession spin wildly out of control, rocketing straight into a predictability based on how utterly ridiculous each passing moment becomes.
Ethan Hawke plays “The Bartender,” an undercover Temporal Agent carrying out his final assignment – catch the serial bomber responsible for the deaths of numerous innocent lives who has eluded Hawke’s grasp for years. While jumping around different periods, Hawke runs into a writer named “The Unmarried Mother” (Sarah Snook) who tells him her story of tragedy and heartbreak. While never forgetting his target, Hawke attempts to help “The Unmarried Mother” by jumping through time with his companion in tow, naturally leading to the discovery of a larger plan – and that’s where I’m going to stop. Predestination is a story about time travel starring Ethan Hawke. That’s all you need to know right now.
At face value, there’s a decent amount of geeky, techno fun to be had for sci-fi lovers. The Spierigs enjoy going back in time to predict current futures, showcasing some psychedelically rad clothing choices for astronaut-accomplices-in-training that nail period atmospheres through R2-D2 patterned dresses. There’s always a lively timezone presence whenever Hawke lands, as the Spierigs are able to build forgotten worlds, and nostalgic recreation ends up being their strongest weapon. If you think back to their previous vampire film Daybreakers, that same old-timey feel is harnessed through costumes, cities and other eye-catching details, and that same eye for visual liveliness once again strikes a confident delivery.
Unfortunately for Predestination, the Spierigs craft a story with tremendous insight yet little surprise. The audacity of “fate” has been explored ad nauseam by science fiction stories about government conspiracies, through controlling aliens and predetermined forces mapping out the lives of humans, and Predestination falters in trying to challenge the bounds of reality. Without spilling any time-altering beans, Hawke’s journey becomes frustrating and convoluted as more and more secrets unmask themselves, constantly barraging viewers come the film’s end. In striving for mind-bending perfection, Predestination actually becomes predictable in its desire to never let occurrences be as they appear. Films often benefit from one magnificent twist that rewrites a story’s entire essence, yet the Spierigs lose such magic by beating their time-jumping dead horse into another dimension.
Predestination‘s biggest achievement is transforming the lovely Sarah Snook into an unrecognizable schlub. Pairing with the always intriguing Ethan Hawke, dare I say Snook outshines the seasoned veteran with her uncharacteristic demeanor and comfortable fitting into a foreign body? It’s these two who banter for a large spell of the film’s first act, as “The Unmarried Mother” chews “The Bartender’s” ear in hopes to win a bottle of whiskey with her unbelievable tale. Hawke turns in another stellar role as an agent coping with retirement and finality, challenging the film’s concept of “predestination” as he finds himself in different timezones – but it’s Snook who really shines. I’m leaving it there, because any divulging of information would reduce the shock value of her first appearance. Trust me, my vague nature is only with your benefit in mind.
The Spierigs don’t exactly rewrite sci-fi history with Predestination, letting an entrancing study fall apart like a wet sandcastle being soaked by the waters of unnecessary twisting. While I don’t believe moderation is always the answer, as there are cases where simplification or abandoning caution are executed deftly, Hawke’s decade-spanning adventure gets lost in its own over-complicated vortex. Despite being wonderfully acted by all parties involved, Predestination evolves slowly into a bloated, coincidental and all-too-staged monstrosity that self-implodes in dramatic fashion. At least it goes out in a blinding blaze of glory, shooting for the stars while falling oh-so short.
Predestination is a befuddling beauty, so rich in concept yet lacking in approach. There are more plot-twists here than M. Night Shyamalan could shake a stick at, but the unfortunate factor is that each one only becomes more predictable than the last.