Transcendence: Movie Review
Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy
Director: Wally Pfister
There are some big beefy sci-fi and existential questions under scrutiny in Transcendence.
Johnny Depp stars as Dr Will Caster, an artificial intelligence researcher who's part of a team that wants to create a sentient artificial machine. But his desire to do so isn't universally shared, with a splinter terrorist group (called RIFT) violently opposed to doing so.
When Caster's shot at an event as part of a simultaneous terror attack, it transpires the bullet's laced with polonium and he begins to succumb to radiation poisoning. However, this merely pushes Caster and his wife, Evelyn (Hall) ahead with their project to upload his consciousness to a computer.
Aided by long time friend, Max (Bettany), the project falters, but suddenly, Caster's consciousness takes hold, and grows, putting them all on a moral and physical collision course with the RIFT separatists.
Transcendence is a case of great ideas, great cast but terrible execution.
Pfister's eye as a cinematographer is clearly evident throughout, with some truly gorgeous shots on display, but it appears his aptitude as a director is somewhat lacking as the film lapses into cliched horror movie territory, having squandered an intellectually impressive premise.
Depp is comatose as Caster, before he actually becomes comatose as a version of 80s icon Max Headroom on a screen - he's no HAL that's for sure; Hall goes from desperate wife unable to let go to horrified at what she's created and Paul Bettany's Max is the worst offender - initially, fully on board with Caster's plan, but kidnapped by RIFT and appears to turn against him without any hint of reason other than being locked in a cage like a monkey by a Julian Assange blonde haired lead terrorist, played with dead behind the eyes by Kate Mara.
Lapses in logic and story-telling blight Transcendence, turning it from a great sci-fi premise to a schlocky B- movie fest that takes in cliches aplenty. Visually, it's mightily impressive and on an intellectual, it has pretensions above its director's grasp. For a techno-thriller, it veers more into plodding than riveting and dulls any initial interest with a lack of cohesion.
Ultimately, Transcendence is a wasted opportunity all round as it teeters into cliched sci-fi territory and revels in the hokum of science and wastes its cast instead of concentrating on solid story-telling.