Before Bruce Willis was sent back in time in Looper, he was sent back in time in Twelve Monkeys and, funnily enough, things didn't turn out so good for him then either!
Further proof that, if you're going to mess with time travel, you'd better have a Doc Brown helping ya.
Terry Gilliam's modern take on La Jetée's themes is set in the near future (well, the late nineties, anyway) when a virus has wiped out most of humanity leaving only animals to rule the Earth, Planet Of The Apes-style except they don't talk and ride horses, that'd be absurd. The remaining people, who live underground, decide to send back in time some prisoner in order to try and figure out what the hell happened, who started this and perhaps stop it altogether. It's not quite clear how this time-travelling technology works and that's dealt with abstractly, which is probably a good move seeing as it cuts down on what could have been 10 dull minutes of explanation. Being a new thing in that near future, the trip back in time doesn't work properly and Willis is sent back too early. He is found, sent to jail, pumped with drugs and left confused and drooling in a mental institution. There, he meets a chatty, paranoid loon (played by a spot-on Brad Pitt) and Madeleine Stowe's understanding doctor. He goes back and forth in time a couple of times and it soon turns out that an underground organisation called The Army Of The Twelve Monkeys could very well be behind the end of the world.
I won't reveal anymore in case you haven't seen the film but, suffice it to say that it offers some nifty twists and turns along the way, ultimately delivering a nail-biting, very clever ending. The film is actually a bit of a mind-f*** the first time you see it so make sure you pay attention from the start because it never overdoes the sci-fi aspect of itself, keeping things as real and down to Earth as possible so it's easy to miss Bruce Willis beaming back to the present suddenly then beaming back later in time or the odd key detail here and there. Twelve Monkeys is pure Gilliam complete with larger than life characters, clutter, a grand, anarchic vibe and general madness. This is the director at his most creative and confident and, although that's mostly thanks to a smart, solid script, he still makes the most of it, bringing us a sci-fi film unlike any other with some striking images and one of Bruce Willis' very best performances. This year's The Zero Theorem could have used a script this good as that film had all the ideas it needed to produce something just as substantial as Twelve Monkeys but half the ambition, scale and story/character development.
Still one of the best modern science fiction films around and one of Terry Gilliam's very best, Twelve Monkeys is a unique take on the genre and it refreshingly never speaks down to its audience, keeping itself challenging yet fascinating from start to finish, not to mention fun.