Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara
Some good ideas and imagery buried in amongst everything else.
Overwrought and over long.
About as subtle as a nailbomb.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a renowned scientist working on building the first true Artificial Intelligence or A.I. He is aided in his work by his partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). Max (Paul Bettany) is also a scientist that whilst working on his own projects, he is good friends with the Casters. After attending a conference Will is shot and fatally poisoned as part of a strike by a radical anti-technology group and the trio come up with the idea of transferring Will’s consciousness onto an advanced computer system designed by him.
Transcendence is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister the director of photography on several of Christopher Nolan’s films and it’s a shame the film is so underwhelming, as Pfister is clearly talented.
This film has numerous flaws, its main one being that it’s so utterly fundamentally predictable. It starts off well, as Bettany’s Max narrates over his exploration of a world where technology for the most part is now obsolete, smartphones lay scattered about the streets and computer keyboards are used as doorstops. It’s an interesting start and then the narrative flashes back 5 years.
Whilst the trailer may make Transcendence seem like a man versus technology gone a amok action affair, it’s actually a very slow burning juxtaposition of a love story with a modern-day dystopian epic, and fails to pull off either very well.
As well as being predictable it’s also incredibly overwrought and over long with it’s 120 minute running time seeming more like 150. Jack Paglen’s script has no room for subtlety either, as numerous points are made repeatedly and bluntly, just in case anyone in the audience missed them the first time.
Depp, who for half the running time is an avatar on a screen, seems to mumble his way through the proceedings and Morgan Freeman, as a kind, wise friend with ties to government, pretty much does what he’s done in several of his recent films. It’s left to Hall to do all the emotional lifting, which she does well, although it does become a case of waiting for the other shoe to drop, whilst Bettany’s Max generally bumbles about, and Kate Mara and Cillian Murphy are completely wasted in ancillary roles.
There’s also an inherent irony in Bettany going up against a rogue A.I since he’s best known for being the voice of Jarvis in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and set to play The Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Whenever things seem like they are going to finally drive into a more action oriented scene, it’s quickly choked down for more plodding melodrama.
There are some memorable images, like a vast bank of solar panels dominating a stretch of desert and some water droplets and sunflowers, which take on far more meaning at the end. There’s the occasional philosophical musing, like how much humanity are you willing to sacrifice to stop a threat to humanity, and the maimed going on a pilgrimage to be healed in a blatant Jesus metaphor, but they’re buried in the quagmire.
The story itself really brings to mind X-Men’s Magneto and Asteriod M, where he just wants to be left alone, but others seeing him as a threat launch an attack and start a costly war, which was a far better take on the much repeated mantra that people fear that which is different.