As much as the sci-fi fanboy in me wanted Transcendence to be a solid kick-off to this summer’s genre movie season, it fell far short of my expectations. With a predictable narrative that rarely surprises or thrills, Wally Pfister (longtime Nolan cinematographer) has made his directorial debut with a forgotten-by-June examination of our relationship with technology and the oft-visited question of whether humankind’s reach exceeds its grasp.
Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, who along with his wife and friend, are considered to be vanguard scientists in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Depp is capable as always, but as he spends most of the time as an on-screen computer avatar, I am hard pressed not to think that just about anything, including a computer simulation of Depp could have easily acted their way through this lifeless thing.
Although much of the scientific community is ridiculously impressed with his work, Dr. Caster has made some enemies in the form of a paradoxical anti-technology terrorist group fronted by Kate Mara (Bree) who for my money, can look over her shoulder with ominous intent better than anyone in the business. This trademark move just may surpass Nicholas Cage’s point-and-laugh, but only time will tell with that one. Bree and her people find AI and all those who work in the field to be enemies of man and god and act, as terrorists will do, by killing to save lives. Depp survives an initial shooting attempt, but the bullet turns out to be radioactive.
The solution to his impending death is obvious. Depp must put on the leftover Borg Queen makeup from Star Trek: First Contact so that he will be able to be uploaded to a computer network. As we only have about two hours to tell the story, this untested and complicated process goes off without a hitch. Once the film gets you to sign off on this incredible premise, you are treated to a fine array of plot holes, overused tropes, and a wide variety of mortgage payment motivated acting performances.
It’s a shame. It’s a veritable Nolan all-star squad here: Rebecca Hall (returning as a wife in denial), Cillian Murphy (freaky eyes dude who just makes me uncomfortable), and Morgan Freeman (who still hasn’t agreed to record my outgoing voice mail message). There’s acting chops abound, but there’s just not enough for them to work with. The result is a collection of characters that just aren’t worth caring about.
Dr. Caster becomes something more than man and something less than The Lawnmower Man as he grows in power and scope. Although he’s clearly a threat to the whole damn world, no one bothers to tell anyone or seek outside help to stop him. And the plan to stop him? I’ll just spare you that little chestnut, but I will tell you it’s on the cutting edge… of stupid.
If you’re still with me, I suppose you’ll also believe that in the end, both Caster and his wife turn into sunflowers and spend their days together in a small garden he made for her back when he was alive. Maybe I’m completely bullshitting you here, maybe not. Do you really want to risk it?
Transcendence looks gorgeous, but because of a flawed and boring story, doesn’t live up to its name. Hopefully, Pfister will get a better script to work with next time.