‘Predestination’ runs laps around viewers

A good time travel movie makes the viewer naive. It’s a wonder that genre fare like it has stuck around for as long as it has. Anyone who’s seen one knows that a curveball is bound to be thrown at some point. Yet, somehow, the best of them make these surprises seem as fresh as ever, even when the story has been done and redone.

In “Predestination,” a time-traveling government agent (Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”) is tasked with one final mission: to catch the infamous “Fizzle Bomber,” a domestic terrorist who’s been stacking bodies since the 1970s. To ensure his success, he meets an author who goes by the pen name “Unmarried Mother” (Sarah Snook, “These Final Hours”) in a bar and enlists his help in the chase.

Hawke has long been a dependable actor. His characteristic passion and honesty is showcased in every scene, but Snook is the real revelation. Playing a deeply complex character, Snook takes on every nuance of the Unmarried Mother and dredges an unexpected power from him. In one particular scene, using just three words, Snook can drive viewers to tears.

Needless to say, “Predestination” is not an average sci-fi movie. In the often tepid landscape of sci-fi, space and time are mainstays done to death, but the movie paints time travel in a dangerous light that adds tension missing from other movies. That being said, once the curveballs hit, it’s hard not to pick it apart.

For one thing, so much time is spent on exposition that the twists and turns of the final two acts feel rushed. That’s not to say that the most surprising don’t came naturally — they do, but everything preceding them feels aimless at times. So many threads run through this movie that they’re bound to get tangled.

When space, time and identities overlap, confusion is a natural consequence. But the best science fiction movies embrace their premises and explore every nuance of them with fervor. “Predestination” takes the concept of time travel, eternal return and inevitability to cosmic extremes.

That being said, some aspects of the movie play loose with logic, and certain revelations start to stink after the credits roll. But the movie has an intelligence to it sorely missing from other flicks of its ilk. Championed by Snook’s star-making performance and a deep emotional resonance, “Predestination” hits almost all the right notes, and even its misses are easily forgiven. The movie runs relentless laps around the viewer, and it’s not hard to enjoy the ride.

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