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Transcendence - Movie Review

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Transcendence - Movie Review


2 stars

The slow burn of Transcendence, the directorial debut from cinematographer Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight Trilogy) isn’t due to its mesmerizing story or its intoxicating visuals. It isn’t due to the fact that it was shot on 35mm instead of digital. Sadly, it’s due to your eyes glossing over as you stare at the screen waiting for something – anything – to happen that makes you feel for the characters played by Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, and Morgan Freeman. It hurts my heart to say it, folks, but – outside of a talented cast – Transcendence is a bust.  

It’s not awful. It’s just pointless. And the murky gray area in the final denouement lays waste to some of the ideas the whole Artificial Intelligence phenomenon, that is the very root of the project, brings up. Why? Because so little time is spent with the humans. In a rather quick twenty minutes or so we are introduced to Dr. Will Caster (Depp), a “rock star” of the artificial intelligence movement, and his wife, Dr. Evelyn Caster (Hall). He wants to do his thing (you know, create God) and go back into seclusion. She wants to use the A.I. to heal the planet.

Neither one sees what is coming when anti-technological extremists attempt to assassinate him. Desperate to save him, Dr. Caster – with the help of Max Waters (Bettany) – uploads her husband into an experimental A.I. drive. The consequences of such a desperate move weigh heavy when Will demands more power, proves he is self-aware, and then accesses the internet. Can he be trusted? Is the AI even Dr. Caster?

The problem with Transcendence isn’t the "more human than human" journey so much as it is how very little time and motivation we get from these characters to help guide us along with some of their decision making as the story unwinds. The "married" bond between Depp and Hall isn’t strong enough to keep audiences from wondering if she’s completely faithful to her husband. And the pecks on the cheek and lingering scenes with her alone with Bettany don’t help solidify – in the audience’s mind – that the love these two are to feel for each other is real.  This needs to be established for the journey to make sense.

The A.I. version of Will tells his wife not to “lose” herself over protecting the project from the government but we are never sure of who she truly is and where her loyalties lie…so what is there to lose? A couple of tears apparently.  We shuffle along to the visuals way too fast when we really needed to establish some character development.   

From here, we have to tackle to leaps and lapses in the logic of the screenplay by Jack Paglen as Cillian Murphy enters the film as Donald Buchanan, a random FBI agent assigned to infiltrate the terrorist organization responsible for Will’s assassination attempt.  Freeman tags along but for the life of me, I don’t really know why. As a consultant? Is he a buddy? We know he is a friend of Will's but what is his situation with the FBI?  It’s never really made clear. What is apparent – when it is discovered what A.I.Will is up to by moving his wife to New Mexico and building up a dead town for mysterious Village of the Damned purposes– he is considered Public Enemy Number One and must be dealt with. Oh, and that Bettany is a really good shot once he sides with the terrorists...but then again, the FBI also teams up with the terrorists so what does it matter?

Transcendence should have been exciting. The talent behind the scenes is there but – other than some choice shots of plant life from Pfister and some creepy melting visuals – only a very small amount is captured on the screen. While I can appreciate the adult nature of the science fiction story (teenagers will be bored to tears with it), it just never truly comes together as a film that I can honestly recommend. If you like these actors – or want to see Depp in a role that focuses more on his acting without the “weirdly” descriptor added to it – then check out Transcendence. Just don’t expect much.

A conversation piece it isn’t.

Transcendence - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
119 mins
: Wally Pfister
Jack Paglan
Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman
: Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Yesterday Dr. Will Caster was only human
Memorable Movie Quote: "The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, mathematicians and engineers pales in comparison to the most basic A.I. Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence."
Warner Bros.
Official Site:
Release Date:
April 18, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available
Synopsis: Dr. Will Caster is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn and friend Max, both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can… but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power—to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

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