‘Transcendence’ Movie Review – Hit and Miss
We’re definitely not at a shortage for movies that warn against the use of technology. The science-fiction sub-genre has almost reached the point of over-saturation. When you dig deeper into the idea, there are some really interesting ways movies (or stories in general) can attack our reliance on technology. Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence isn’t even close to being a perfect film (more on this to come), but it still has some quality moments sprinkled in among a sea of plot inadequacies.
The film centers around Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). Early on, Will’s brilliance is highlighted by his contributions to Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Through his research, he’s helped create a program called P.I.N.N. that has the potential for all the same qualities as a human, including a self-aware consciousness.
Then, Will’s life is put in danger to the point where Evelyn and the Casters’ partner, Max (Paul Bettany), decide to upload Will’s consciousness into the P.I.N.N.’s database. The hope is that he’ll live on in the mysterious machine.
As you can probably imagine, the major conflict revolves around the acceptance of this consciousness as a viable “person.”
Transcendence doesn’t stop there, though. In fact, there are more subplots than you’d probably expect from the film. One of which includes Evelyn’s struggle to stay with, for all intents and purposes, her surrogate husband.
However, the film mostly deals with Artificial Intelligence and the dangers to such an advanced technology.
The film introduces an anti-technology group (one that would make the late Ray Bradbury happy) called R.I.F.T. led by a woman named Bree (Kate Mara). R.I.F.T.’s purpose to the narrative is to fight against what they consider to be in the impending doom that Caster’s work could create.
The major issue that plagues Transcendence is the various shortcuts the script (written by Jack Paglen) takes. This includes some huge suspensions of belief (some suspension is okay in the sci-fi genre, but when we’re talking instant regeneration and particle-filled rain, it’s gone a little too far). Some of what is going on just simply doesn’t make any semblance of sense.
But the underlying idea of technology and it being our downfall is still inherently interesting. These types of movies are becoming overdone, but Transcendence deserves a little recognition for exploring the idea of A.I. and the fear that change creates (again, a very Bradburian idea).
As far as performances go, Depp gives a very toned-down performance. This is probably because he’s not given the showy character he’s used to. While I’m on character, Transcendence and its script does struggle to create a character worth being interested in. Evelyn (and Hall’s subsequent performance) is the closest thing we get to something interesting; however, even that character falters in the third act.
I will admit that I’ve become increasingly interested in the notion that we’re addicted to technology in the last few months. This makes my viewing of Transcendence much more personally exciting. With all the film’s issues in hand, the word interesting should still be used when discussing Wally Pfister’s film. The problem becomes the inadequate script and off-the-wall plot. If they did it again, I’m sure this is where the filmmakers would start their revisions. However, we’re left with what we got, and for that you can expect a cautionary tale about technology with a twist here and there.
Transcendence released in IMAX and conventional theaters this Friday. Check your local listings for a showtime.
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