Movie Review: “Transcendence” – Not Quite

Written by Jesse Gelinas April 22, 2014

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy in "Transcendence"

Wally Pfister has been playing second fiddle to Christopher Nolan as his DoP for the past fifteen years. Now, he’s taking center-stage with his directorial debut, “Transcendence”. This semi-futuristic sci-fi flick flirts with some vague themes of what makes humanity, and how far is too far with technology. But overall, everything thematic kind of falls flat in favour of some generic action and recycled plots and twists. It hardly transcends other stories of its genre, but “Transcendence” holds its own and is enjoyable regardless.

“Transcendence” is the name assigned by scientist Will Caster, to his theoretical idea of uploading a human consciousness into an artificial intelligence. When Will is poisoned by an anti-technology terrorist, his wife and partner attempt to save him by trying the experiment, ultimately succeeding in keeping Will’s mind alive in the computer. Once connected to the internet, his power and intelligence increases exponentially, until he is soon buying towns, healing the crippled, and building a cybernetic army. Of course the FBI takes notice, and Will is immediately marked as a threat to national security. Cue pitchforks.

“Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence.”

“Transcendence” breaks no new ground. It’s not a masterpiece, or a deep insight into the philosophical questions of life, free will, and humanity. It’s a genre flick with an action twist. It’s got a stacked cast, and they all bring their A-game; even though it’s not completely necessary, you always get the best from this crew. Wally Pfister’s worked with most of these people enough on Nolan’s films to know what they can do. Depp is a perfect droning digital man. Rebecca Hall is charming and likable as always. Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman are wasted in their minor roles, but it’s always nice to see them. Paul Bettany (who really needs to be in more big movies) is great in a completely flat, lifeless, arc-less role. He’s that good.

Paul Bettany in "Transcendence"

Wally Pfister doesn’t totally have me sold as a director, but of course “Transcendence” looks amazing. He knows what a crisp, pristine movie looks like, and this is no exception. He also manages to pull great performances from the cast, but that’s not much of an accomplishment with the kind of talent at his disposal. If the direction of the film is failing in one department, it’s in the delivery the film’s themes and messages in an efficient manner; there’s nothing for us to grab on to. It’s an old tale where this AI machine starts out promising, but goes too far and becomes a terror. We have no real reason to fear Depp’s Caster-computer aside from every character telling us that we should. The ending further muddles this distinction by seemingly copping out on the point of the film.

“Run away from this place.”

No one should’ve expected a masterpiece from Pfister’s debut film. “Transcendence” is just a decent action/drama with a few cool twists and concepts. It however, falls a bit flat with only half-decent writing, and a theme and message seemingly lost in translation. However, it’s worth looking at for the great visuals and engaging performances. Pfister has proven he can handle a big budget film, and perhaps his next will rise above this relatively mundane outing.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Johnny Depp in "Transcendence"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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