“So you want to create a God? Your own God?”
Transcendence is exactly one minute short of being two hours long. It finished, I popped it out of my DVD player, and I sat there dumbfounded. How could a movie so unrelentingly hurried and rushed towards its conclusion overstay its welcome for so long? This is a discouraging directorial debut for Wally Pfister, the long time cinematographer for Christopher Nolan. His affinity for Nolan is noticeable in every way. He tries to employ the same pacing and beats, yet due to the awful script all we’re left with are a few cool but throwaway visuals. It amounts to nothing.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the head of his field. His work revolves around the idea of the “singularity,” the day that technology and human life are completely integrated and inseparable. Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is Will’s wife. She’s extremely intelligent but focuses more on backing Will’s work than fulfilling her own. A conference is held and Will is begrudgingly talked into speaking by his wife. That’s where an operative of the Luddite terrorist group R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) shoots Will in the stomach. The bullet is laced with radiation. He has weeks to live.
Most of the plot is ill-conceived, with people like the Casters’ good friend Max (Paul Bettany) switching allegiances for no reason. Determined to keep her husband and his dream existent, Evelyn uploads his consciousness into a super computer. But this isn’t Will…or is it? He immediately asks for access to government files and requests more power. Unlike Max, Evelyn can only see her husband and clings to the idea that he is still alive. Government scientist Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) come along wanting to help stop the singularity, afraid that “Will’s” motives aren’t in the right place. Frankly, I don’t know if they were or not.
Had Transcendence just picked one story line, any of them, it would have been just okay. This is a porous script full of good ideas that are never followed through. I really don’t think there was a protagonist (main character) either. Will spends all but the first 15-20 minutes as a computer image spouting off about god knows what. Rebecca Hall tries her best to save Evelyn, but the character is so weak and monochromatic that her intentions are never clear. The acting really isn’t all that bad from the entire cast. However, you can’t give paint by numbers to a group of true artists and expect masterpieces. It doesn’t work that way.
Want to watch a movie about the singularity that makes it seem possible, if not inevitable and still absorbs you? Try the ’09 documentary Transcendent Man. That’s a fun watch and you feel smarter for having seen it, contrary to this film. By the time it ends you’ll be wondering what the hell you just saw. Ask me what the movie’s message is and I wouldn’t know what to tell you. And that’s because it doesn’t know what to say or how to express it. Transcendence is a deeply unaffecting and disappointing film. All I was left wondering was how much Johnny Depp got paid to do so little. FYI, it was a reported twenty million dollars, a fifth of the movie’s budget. What a waste.
“We’re going to transcend them.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5