A group of anti-technology extremists have targeted some of the most prominent scientists and researchers in the field of artificial intelligence for elimination as part of their radical cause. Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is at the top of their hit list, and a plutonium-laced bullet ensures that if he doesn’t die right away, he will die a slower death from radiation poisoning. The extra time allows Caster, along with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and fellow researcher Max Watters (Paul Bettany), the opportunity to make a huge leap in Caster’s research by using himself as a guinea pig and integrating the electronic version of his brain into a supercomputer so that he transcends the normal, physical world and becomes a very powerful and sentient virtual being. Such is the premise of Transcendence, the $100 million Warner Brothers release directed by Wall Pfister, who is primarily known as a cinematographer (Dark Knight Rises, Inception). Unfortunately, Transcendence does not achieve any superior state in the art of movie-making.
The storyline is nothing new and has been done a million times before in films, and unfortunately, Transcendence doesn’t do it in a way that is unique, better, or even particularly original. It doesn’t really even seem to try. The script is the first writing credit for Jack Paglen, and is just…horrible. There are several moments when I had to stop myself from laughing and say to myself “did he/she REALLY just say that?” The relationships between the lead characters is not defined very well, and some of the dialogue is just ridiculous, a desperate attempt to propel the story along too quickly. The casting of Morgan Freeman as the senior investigating agent, a role he has played a thousand times, is just another nod to how cliché and unoriginal this movie is.
Though I will give him credit for some attractive visuals, Pfister’s inexperience as a director shows and he clearly doesn’t know how to create any true emotional depth. Just because a character looks emotional, or is crying, it doesn’t mean the audience is actually going to be sympathetic or feel any emotion along with him. Even worse, the “transcendence” of the main character from a human to a sentient, almost omnipotent virtual intelligence is totally lacking in drama and suspense. It sort of seems like Johnny Depp is just suddenly on Skype all the time. The bland handling of this and other key parts of the film make it seem very implausible, which of course it is, but it also makes suspending disbelieve impossible as well. It’s as if the director wants you to just take his word for it that the movie is dramatic, and suspenseful, and not totally cliché and…boring.
A rare miss for Johnny Depp (not counting Lone Ranger), Transcendence failed to impress me. But one bright spot, Kate Mara who plays the radical extremist Bree is superb!
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::: Renowned For Sound Technical Director and Film Reviewer ::: Robert is an IT geek, movie fan and part-time movie reviewer/editor. Robert also looks after the ‘behind the scenes’ technical elements of Renowned For Sound.