One of my favorite movies from last year was Looper. It had Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the same character separated by 30 years in age but coexist in a drama about changing yourself and your past, all of which occurs in the year 2044. If that brief synopsis didn’t tip you off, it’s a sci-fi flick about time travel. Well, correction: it’s a sci-fi flick with time travel. Director Rian Johnson said as much, saying that he wanted to avoid the traditional “chalkboard scene,” a trope where the characters explain everything that’s happening and why it matters and blah blah blah.
Johnson fixed it all with a single line. Seated in a café, the two get down to brass tacks. “I don’t want to talk about time travel.” That’s all Old Joe has to say as Young Joe questions whether his future-borne counterpart knows what’s going to happen. “We’ll be here all day…making diagrams with straws.” It’s fitting because Looper really isn’t about time travel at all; it’s just a color Johnson paints into his portrait of a man learning to live.
To that point, it allows you to bridge over a lot of what you might want to call “plot holes,” a subject expertly dissected by Film Crit Hulk. Time travel movies generally invite that sort of investigative slant from the audience, but the immediate reciprocation of cause to effect in the film skews it towards a bit of the “magical” interpretation, as Primer director Shane Carruth put it. In fact, one of the few plot holes Johnson is willing to acknowledge is that the safe in Joe’s apartment would be inexplicably protruding into the unit below, which would undoubtedly raise questions from the tenants.
I began to think about this last night as I was playing Saints Row IV. (Speaking of which, it’s a great game and I’ve got a review forthcoming. Hold tight!) After a troubled publishing and muddied development story, we’re finally back with the 3rd Street Saints and the Boss. The absolutely bonkers campaign left from Saints Row: The Third is taken to its logical conclusion and we see the Saints as the leaders of the United States. The Boss is the President and everyone else is your cabinet.
It does, however, get more…unconventional than that. In the opening moments of the game, aliens attack and abduct everyone. You fend off the attack and watch the rest of the Saints get pulled up into the alien mothership. It culminates with you getting into a futile fistfight with their leader Zinyak, eventually dropping into some sort of digital simulation of Steelport run by said extraterrestrial. There’s some silver lining, though, since the simulation can be hacked by Kinzie to allow for you to earn superpowers like super speed and super jumps.
In a stroke of genius, developers Volition, Inc. decided to co-opt Crackdown‘s single greatest contribution to the superpower video game lexicon: agility orbs. Or rather, data clusters in this case. You collect these precariously placed pickups from all over the world. Some will be on rooftops and others will be stuck along a billboard. As you get more and more, you can spend them on upgrades to your powers so you can glide in the air (think Infamous) and run into things without taking damage.
There’s a narrative layer to them, though. Kinzie describes them as lingering bits of code that will allow her to modify the simulation. The Boss questions, then, as to why Zinyak’s forces don’t use them, too, so as to boost their powers. She responds with the fact that since Zinyak runs the show, he doesn’t need them. But then why would they leave them lying around? They’re strays. Accidents. So shouldn’t they collect them anyways so I can’t get them?
The Boss has a lot of questions, and most of them fair. Kinzie also has a lot of answers, and all of them check out. But, just as time travel logistics don’t really matter to Johnson and Looper, these questions don’t hold any sway in Saints Row IV. That’s just not what this game is about. Those are fair questions posed by the Boss, and it seems Kinzie has all of the answers, but why get bogged down in the details? Young Joe had fair questions, too, with Old Joe fully capable of answers or at least taking a stab at them, but that would take a quick, character-based drama to a sudden halt.
Saints Row IV is the kind of game where you choose to either cure cancer or solve world hunger with a press of a button, each one via bills appropriately named Fuck Cancer and Let Them Eat Cake, respectively. Saints Row IV is the kind of game where you every car has nitrous because why the fuck not? You can already run at like a hundred miles an hour, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have you buy it every time you find yourself in a car. It’s the kind of game that gets mired in espousing to you the reasoning behind the insanity and would much rather spend that time letting you get lost in its nutso reality.
To point out that Saints Row IV is a game with a lot of unanswered questions is entirely accurate because there are a lot of unanswered questions. But it, like many other artistic or entertainment endeavors (or at least the ones worth considering), it aims for a singular purpose. If its purpose was to fill your mind with a rich tapestry of complex narrative folds and weaves, then it would be a valid complaint. But this is not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This is a game with a dubstep gun and the ability to choose Nolan North as your character. So those answers you’re looking for? They’re not here. No one even bothered to ask.