Friday, April 18, 2014


There are basically two types of science fiction stories. There are those that rely on the fantastic fury of sights and sounds (STAR WARS), and there are those which serve as a contemplative, thinking-man’s story (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY). There are also those which manage to have one boot on each planet…which is the approach for TRANSCENDENCE; the first directorial effort from famed cinematographer Wally Pfister.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), along with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and his friends Max (Paul Bettany) and Joseph (Morgan Freeman) are the world’s leaders in artificial intelligence. When Will is mortally wounded by an anti-technology terrorist group led by Bree (Kate Mara), his brain functions are uploaded into a super-computer…where he begins to accomplish wonderful and deadly things.

TRANSCENDENCE starts off strong and sets itself up to be a true, thinking-man’s story in which our place in the universe can be analyzed and discussed over and over with thought-provoking ideas. Ideas such as whether or not there is a limit to artificial intelligence, if it is morally right to let it grow, and the ethics behind copying a human being’s brain into a computer where it can survive forever. TRANSCENDENCE offers up a glimpse of many great questions and thoughts…and then promptly forgets about them. Each theme and idea is mentioned for a few fleeting seconds and is instantly forgotten about…never to be mentioned again.
Taking a broad-strokes approach to storytelling is certainly forgivable, and since the great themes aren’t explored, TRANSCENDENCE instead dives head-first into the sights and sounds to propel its story. And this is where things go off the rails. When cyber-Will starts to crave more power and begins to accomplish good and bad things, any bit of believability and credibility goes out the window. All science fiction must have some sort of grounding to keep the belief going, but TRANSCENDENCE doesn’t bother and just makes one fantastic thing after another happen…and it ultimately comes off as silly.

Director Wally Pfister, who has made a great career as a cinematographer, ultimately proves that he’s not quite ready for the captain’s chair yet. While he manages to show some of his visual style, the film has massive lapses in continuity, time, and breaks in its very own logic. Characters are given zero motivations and might as well be computers themselves. But the biggest sin Pfister makes is making a film that is so goddamn boring. Pacing is a slog to get through, and even when the explosions start happening…there isn’t very much enjoyment to be had.
The overqualified cast does their best with the weak material. Johnny Depp spends most of his time inside the computer screen and seemingly does exactly what is asked of him, but not much more. His scenes before his upload are wasted as we never once feel empathy for his character. Rebecca Hall gets the most work and does well, and Morgan Freeman also turns in a fine performance. Kate Mara gets the call up to the big-leagues with the most screentime she’s ever had, but is underdeveloped and dull. Cillian Murphy shows up as an FBI agent in what amounts to a pointless extended cameo.

The climax includes a big battle in which the FBI faces off against cyber-Will (exactly why the FBI is targeting him is never made clear), and things go into even more ridiculous scenarios and happenings. When all is said and done TRANSCENDENCE tries to offer one last grand-question for us all to ponder, but by then no one really cares. In an effort to harvest the best of both worlds, this film is as clumsy as it is stupid.


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