‘Transcendence’ Review: Novel Concept, Poor Execution

Posted in The Screening Room by - February 01, 2015

As the final film in our Top 5 Marathon, I had high hopes for Transcendence as it was also the most recent film from the list as well along with the fact it featured one of the most versatile actors currently in Hollywood, Johnny Depp. It also has an interesting premise and a noteworthy supporting cast, as well as being directed by Wally Pfister who had worked previously with Christopher Nolan as a cinematographer. It’s too bad that the movie starts as strong then becomes extremely convoluted as the film progresses, going nowhere in the end. 

The film follows Will Caster as he seeks to create an artificial intelligence that can help save the world, along with the help of his wife Evelyn. Caster works along with Max Waters, played by Paul Bettany, to discover the secrets of the mind and how it can be tapped into to create the perfect AI. However, early in the film Caster is shot with a polonium-laced bullet and begins to die from radiation poisoning. As he is dying, Max and Evelyn transfer Will’s conscience into their existing intelligence core, saving his memories and creating the first intelligence with a human mind. 

From there the film goes completely in a direction that I didn’t see coming and didn’t really do much with the premise set up in the early in the film. It plays off of the inherent paranoia of whether AI could become self-aware and try to due what’s best for itself, not humanity. Unfortunately, these themes of paranoia and distrust of technology aren’t presented with the same tact as the main idea of the film, and thus it suffers. The characters have an immediate distrust of Will as the AI even when given no reason to have such distrust. It’s ridiculous and exists only to further the plot, not to flesh out the characters in a realistic way.

It’s just too bad that the film features a cast of A-list talent yet they are all but wasted to showcase a digital Johnny Depp. Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy as so underutilized in the film that their contributions aren’t worth mentioning as they add nothing to the film merely serving as window dressing. Kate Mara, who is fantastic on House of Cards, is equally given nothing as the leader of the anti-technology terrorist cell, simply phoning it in during her few brief scenes. Instead of a memorable ensemble cast, the performances feel disjointed and don’t share enough screen time together to truly have chemistry.

Transcendence has some interesting ideas and that’s really all; it squanders a A-list cast and novel concept in favor of a convoluted tale of technophobia gone awry. It could have been an interesting tale about what lengths we will go to be with the ones we love and how technology can better society, instead it is stereotypical science fiction fodder. If you’re looking for a deep, thought-provoking science fiction film, skip Transcendence.

Final Say: Skip It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He’s a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You’ll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.

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