Written by Steven Panzarella(@ProCreateSteve)
The Short-An intelligent topic and visually stunning work from its director is wasted on a boring, needy, weirdly scripted sci-fi drama that fails to hammer its “beware of technology” plot home. Transcendence Fails where movies like Terminator or even Inception succeeded, it’s neither scary nor will it make you lose any sleep over the future of 21st century technology.
Wally Pfister is a Christopher Nolan disciple with 1 Oscar (Inception) and 3 nominations (The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige, Batman Begins) as a critically acclaimed cinematographer. His first venture as a director is Transcendence (scripted by newcomer Jack Paglen) follows genius couple Will and Evelyn Caster (Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) who are working to create a sentient machine. They are pitted against an anti-technology organization that puts Will on his deathbed and forces Evelyn to make the ultimate choice, let Transcendence die with Will or attempt the impossible and put Will inside the machine.
Transcendence is supposed to be our era’s Terminator; at the start of the film we learn that the act of Transcendence did not go well, because of Will Caster computers are no more than door stops now and Earth has fully lost its reliance on technology. The machines won, a similar fear created in James Cameron’s seminal 80’s classic, and it’s a very interesting premise especially early on. The fact that practically nothing exciting, thrilling or even remotely interesting after the film’s opening half hour, Depp plays an interesting genius but there is a lack of that Johnny Depp personality that normally forms interesting characters. Will Caster relates to nobody and for that reason he is neither a good protagonist nor a fun antagonist. The cast for this movie would normally have the ability to save it, save it from a cliché ridden script that has the impossible task of taking all its nonsensical tech lingo and make sense of it. Sadly, no matter how pretty the movie is shot or how large the cast is Jack Paglen’s script delivers no excitement and besides its early promise proves that sometimes no matter how beautiful the visuals or how interesting a premise might be if the script has lousy dialogue and non-relatable characters the movie is doomed to fail.
We are told Transcendence stars Johnny Depp yet Depp only leads the movie for the first half after which it’s his voice or his face on a computer screening softly dispensing his lines as only a computer would dry and lacking personality even if it’s unfair in my opinion to judge Depp’s persona in Transcendence because he was written as the shy, soft spoken genius type. It is strange that Will Caster lacks the passion that someone looking to change the world would have, he is even keeled throughout the entire film even as he is facing his own mortality. As far as the rest of the cast goes Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Paul Bettany, and Kate Mara make up Transcendence’s supporting cast and none of them stand out with just average performances across the board.
The one place where Transcendence succeeds is of course with the fantastic cinematography, the feeling I had was the director should not be spared for a lackluster scripts and subpar storytelling but he also deserves points because in his directorial debut the best part of a Wally Pfister movie are the incredible cinematography. It’s a shame that the director was unable to create a better movie that matched his vision, I am hopeful that he gets another opportunity to direct something.
Transcendence is a great idea and in theory could have been a masterfully done movie if it weren’t so damn boring. And it’s the boredom that is the real reason why it fails and why it’s not a very good movie.