Directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut, the film stars Johnny Depp as an artificial intelligence researcher who is mortally wounded by a radical anti-technology group. Before he dies, however, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) uploads his consciousness to a computer. As the radical group approaches to finish what they started, Evelyn must decide if the intelligence claiming to be her deceased husband is who it says it is. Sound confusing? Yeah, you’re telling me.
This film features a rookie director, a rookie screenwriter and an ensemble cast. All three were red flags before the title card in “Transcendence” even showed up on the screen. Pfister is a fantastic cinematographer (he won an Oscar for “Inception”) but maybe he should not quit his day job anytime soon. His first time in the director’s chair, Pfister heads a film with pacing issues and a narrative that ranges from awkward to just plain non-existent. Oh, and the movie really doesn’t know what it wants to be or what messages it wants to send, either.
In the film’s opening act there is a decently thought provoking line about whether man creating artificial intelligence and “playing God” is any different than mankind “making up gods” throughout history. Then they drop that possible storyline for the whole “anti-technology” group. Then yet again the film decides that angle isn’t interesting enough so it goes into whether A.I. is capable of comparing to humans. If you haven’t figured it out yet, allow me to clarify: the film is a mess.
There are some redeeming qualities to the film. Obviously with Pfister being an award winning cinematographer, the movie is shot beautifully; even if half of the cool shots are completely irrelevant to the scene. For example the very first shot of the film shows rain on a window and car headlights blurred in the background. The movie then cuts to a completely unrelated scene and starts the actual story. Was the shot cool to look at? Sure. Was it confusing and irrelevant? You betcha.
The movie does make a couple interesting points about where we’re going and how we may be letting technology get the best of us, but these aren’t things that you haven’t read about or pondered before; go to any website and they’ll tell you to put down your phone and go play outside. You don’t need to pay $10 to have the voice of Johnny Depp tell you.
For what it was striving to accomplish, “Transcendence” fails. It went for broke and came up short, but not horrifically. There are a few interesting parts and for about five seconds you actually wonder if Johnny Depp’s A.I. is good or evil, but in the long run this is a very forgettable film. I guess you could say that “Transcendence” transcends the definition of an average film [I’ll pause so you can laugh].
Critics Rating: 5/10