Predestination Review

Directed by: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Written by: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (screenplay), Robert A. Heinlein (story)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor


Zombies are so last year. Time travel is Hollywood’s newest favoritist thing and 2014 sure saw a glut of them ride the zeitgeist: Time Lapse, Edge Of Tomorrow, even Interstellar. At the close of the year arrives Predestination, covering both bases by being an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”. Spoiler! There are no actual zombies in Predestination, unless you count the barely-twitching plot but we’ll get to that in good time.

Ethan Hawke is the preeminent operative of the Temporal Bureau – timecops, gottit? The TB is actively hunting the Fizzle Bomber, a time-hopping terrorist who has killed thousands in a series of attacks spanning decades. Thus we find Hawke working undercover as a bartender in 1970 New York City. But this is five years before the bomber’s most devastating attack which Hawke has been charged with thwarting. Evidently, some long game is at play here. A stranger pulls up a stool at his counter and they begin to chat.

When J.J. Abrams finally brings Stephen King’s Kennedy assassination/time-travel mashup novel 11/22/63 to the small screen in the near future, some viewers may find the front-half a bit of a slog. A wrinkle in the time-shifting device there means that 11/22/63‘s protagonist must endure a similar five year preamble before he can enact his history-altering plan. King’s obvious affection for the late ’50s setting and the charming minutiae of its depiction is what makes the wait an engaging read. Predestination tries to pull off a similar trick – a time-travel thriller which has neither thrills nor time-travel for the entire first-half of its run time.

It actually is fifty minutes of Hawke and his customer shooting the shit in the bar, punctuated by flashbacks to the fifties and sixties to accompany a fantastical tale the customer shares with Hawke. That’s Predestination‘s second major misstep: to lay out the entire back-story of a main character in one helping would be ill-conceived in most movie genres; to do so by such a completely mundane linear method is particularly egregious in a time-travel movie.


The first major misstep occurs in the preceding action opener, wherein Predestination inexplicably chooses to foreshadow its ultimate big twist with one revelatory shot. Thereafter, the next fifty-minute character info-dump has no mystery to tease; Predestination has already made itself predictable. Not content with gently tapping its self-destruct button, it pounds mercilessly on it twice more; during the bar scene, two exchanges clumsily sign-post where it’s going with its causality/paradox conceit. If you don’t twig the entire thing by the hour mark, have yourself strapped to a gurney and forced to loop-endure Somewhere in Time for the next twenty-three years. Watch-Die-Repeat.

Once the second-half kicked it, I hoped at least for some redeeming action and maybe just one crummy plot rug-pull to knock the smugness out of me; it is the hunt for a mad-bomber after all. Give me a ticking timer cliché, JCVD to come round-housing in at the 11th hour, anything! It was not to be. The plot strands simply mesh to confirm what I had already preempted an hour earlier. If you find it jaw-dropping and unexpected, I suggest you check out Shattered (1991); you’ll eat that shit up, and you’re welcome. By definition, a plot twist requires a prelaid plot to twist. In the end, Predestination simply pulls the sheet fully off the secret it thought it was expertly teasing throughout, reveals that it’s all twist and no trousers, yells “Tah-dah!” and shamelessly passes the hat round for you to show your ‘preciation.

Writer-director duo The Spierig Brothers thrilled in 2010 with the wonderfully inventive and endlessly stylish Daybreakers, a welcome inversion of the usual vampire conventions. On that success and on viewing the trailer, I prejudged that this follow-up would be a smart, stylish and original addition to the time-bending field. Ethan Hawke is in the midst of his own McConaissance – a ‘Hawke-second-wind?’ but here he’s a barely-registering bundle of broodiness. It’s left to his Australian newbie co-star to carry the day and their (don’t IMDB Predestination if you want to go in fresh!) committed performance alone carries what emotion the movie offers.

I’m giving this one-and-a-half stars. If you think I’m being harsh, feel free to tell me to go fuck myself. You always have a choice. UPDATE: After much reflection, I spun the dials and came back from the future and docked it another star for squandering winning best adapted screenplay at the 2015 Oscars. Oh boy! — Mike Reilly

SCORE: 0.5 stars

  • Jason Black

    That is just soo wrong to score it 1/2 but it is a film that will have that effect on people. I like Somewhere In Time btw :)

  • Fantastic Mr Hank

    I guess to each his own, just got done listening to the podcast review of this film as well, I’m shocked none of you Filmjunk guys dig this movie, I personally was pretty blown away by the plot twist towards the end, and I consider Predestination one of the top 3 movies I’ve seen this year! I’m giving this 3.7 out of 4 FJ rating.

  • Kurt

    I had so much fun with this movie. Really a blast.

  • mr. morse

    very good movie

    unfair, one-sided ..dowright mean review. even i don’t do that anymore

    try & get some context. it was better than many other similarily-themed.

    i guess you geltlemen need erol morris/disney/watchowskis to get you off

    it’s easy to be mean

  • Mike Reilly

    It is for sure a divisive film. For my own part, I’m judging it on the content therein (plot/surprises/character) and how it chooses to present that content throughout its runtime. Putting it in the wider context of the time travel genre and being aware of all the potential opportunities for originality that come from playing in that particular sandbox, I therefore concluded that the movie was a massive misfire and failure on pretty much every level. In the end it was a one-trick pony and it played that trick badly in my opinion.

    But as Hank says, to each their own :)

  • mr. worse

    i am hank’s lack of surprise.

    why don’t you reduce the whole theme of time travelling into one particular “trick” , judge those other movies like that and specify what the hell did they do that was so good in hiding it.

  • Fantastic Mr Hank

    Well, everyone is entitled to his opinion, Filmjunk is extremely entertaining to listen to, but these guys’ takes on most films are pretty off-base IMO.

    Take this film for example, I’ve been waiting for years for a movie to deliver a truly original idea that’s NEVER been tried before in a creative, engaging way, and when “Predestination” came out and did exactly that, these guys not only did not appreciate the fine filmmaking craftsmanship fully on display here, this guy actually gave it half a star.

    On the other hand, these guys raved about Scarlett Johansson’s “Under The Skin” which turned out to be totally unwatchable (even with Johansson’s total nude scene!), and Frank actually had the audacity to recommend that piece of Johnny Depp turd “Lone Ranger” earlier this year which should’ve been evidence enough to revoke his film critic privilege to review another single film in his life.

    Again, Filmjunk is extremely entertaining to listen to, and they do provide a tremendous service to alleviate out boredom for hours on end, but you really can’t take their “opinions” on films too seriously.

  • Fantastic Mr Hank

    Me too! When I realized whom Ethan Hawke actually sent back in time to meet Jane, I LITERALLY jumped out of my seat and pointed at the screen and screamed, “WTF!? WTF is happening?” My wife and kids were pretty shocked at the twist as well, and we all enjoyed this movie immensely. This is easily one of my top 3 this year (next to Days of Future Past and Planet of the Ape).

  • mr. horse

    i can only agree, very fun indeed

    i’ll be open, i don’t think this movie is about a trick of some sort -however, it can only appear, at least partially, as such.

    yet, as any mouth breather would, at a second watch i did notice nuances in these characters: the girl was a narcissist.. she knew what she was doing/was about to do; the conflictual nature of man, even though not as evident nor artful as the classic Prometheus Unbound, is present; there is a tragedy of identity/self – if only desguised as a ..dick augmentation anecdote (“what’s the song Like a Virgin about?” said one guy at the table.)

    maybe they should’ve explored the sexual dimension, but that in itself is a whole movie, a whole different kind of movie.

  • Fantastic Mr Hank

    I heard it somewhere a while back (very possibly on one of the Filmjunk episodes) that a filmmaker has done his job conveying his message if the audience ends up leaving the theater with lingering thoughts about the film for any extended period of time.

    I rarely give it a second thought after I watch majority of the movies these days, especially the recent crop of Marvel films, I’ve seen guardians of the galaxy twice this year thus far(at my kids’ request), and I can not tell you the plot synopsis of that “film”. I saw Predetermanation on Saturday, and I have not stop thinking about it: the hidden message of it all, the moral implication of each character, the possibility of somehting like this taking place, etc.

    So yeah, I’ll say this movie is much deeper than what some “critics” are willing to delve into.

  • Captain Fram

    Couldn’t disagree more. I thought this was a fantastic film, and a vast improvement over the kitchen-sink approach to Daybreakers.

  • Kurei

    Yup, this review is pretty much correct in how I felt. No surprises, pretty obvious, and stupid in other parts. Ouroborous works because it has a head and a tail and then it goes from there. Starting off with a circle doesn’t make it deeper, it makes it nonsensical. And throwing a chicken and egg line in there doesn’t much help your case.

    The girl was pretty good though. I didn’t think much of her in Jessabelle, but in this, it gave me second thoughts about her acting chops. Even though in male form she looked pretty much like Leonardo DiCaprio and not a very convincing man.

    Also funny to note that her character may be the most narcissistic individual I’ve seen in films.

  • Digestive Pyrotechnics

    Hey, it wasn’t that bad, many of the finer time loop elements were catered to, keeping the paradox in check. Here’s a timeline diagram to help explain the events of the movie:

  • ogbrooklyn

    A paradox indeed

  • helloworlder

    For someone as their own father and mother, I’d say the genetics were pretty forgiving. Giving life to yourself, and then being the one to take it away in the end; very perverse. Plot holes galore but great movie.

  • Sean Nguyen

    I agree with the review. If you didn’t know the “Twist” by the time Jane became John I judge you a bit. I mean all the pieces were there….he had a face change in the beginning of the movie for crying out loud. I too was hoping they would surprise me somehow with an ending that wasn’t predictable but I was also left dissatisfied. FACE CHANGE!!! How else did you think they were going to use that hahaha