Posted April 18, 2014 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: science fiction, thriller
Director: Wally Pfister
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Actors: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: 4/18/2014
Studio: Alcon Entertainment (presents), DMG Entertainment (in association with), Straight Up Films, Syncopy (uncredited)
What We Thought

At least they didn’t put it in 3D—it’s bad enough in 2 dimensions.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Making a thriller is fairly simple.  Show us someone.  Make us care about them.  Put them in danger.  Get them out of danger.  It’s simple,  but it’s not easy.  Far from it.
     Putting characters in danger is a contrivance of the plot.  It’s meaningless unless we care about the person who’s endangered.   Somehow, Transcendence gets both steps wrong.  The whole thing’s a wash.
     Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a scientist who’s shot by a terrorist after giving a speech at a fund-raiser for his artificial intelligence research.  He survives the attack, but the poison of the radiation-infused bullet will kill him in a matter of weeks.
     Stop right here.  Why did the assassin use only one bullet at close range? Why use a special isotope bullet when two normal bullets would be better?  He should be shooting until he doesn’t have a target left.  Somehow, the terrorist group is successfully able to coordinate simultaneous attacks in major cities across the U.S. to prevent A.I. domination, and yet they can’t kill this one guy?
     That’s a plot contrivance.  A magical bullet conveniently gives the survivor enough time to commit some science has gone too far bullshit.  Will’s wife and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) wants to save him.  They spend the next few weeks with their friend and colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany) scanning his brain, trying to replicate his brainwaves onto a super computer.
     This happens so early on that there’s no chance to invest ourselves in the fate of Caster and his wife.  A good thriller is all about pacing, and Transcendence rushes out of the starting gate.
     The terrorists, members of Revolutionary Independence of Technology (R.I.F.T.), find out about their secret experiments…somehow.  Evelyn has only moments to upload Will’s consciousness to the Internet, where he will grow, learn, and expand at an exponential rate.
     Max worries that they have created a mere facsimile, and unleashed something they don’t understand upon the world, while Evelyn believes that Will’s very being is online, omnipresent and omniscient.
     Transcendence is directed by Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s reliable Director of Photography.  The project reeks of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman?  They’re Nolan alumni.  Pfister  knows how to light a shot, but that’s very different than directing actors.  If you’re getting tired of Depp’s quirky performances, you’ll miss them.  He looks like he’s asleep, and he has no chemistry with Hall in what few scenes they have together, and Morgan Freeman is phoning it in.  I don’t blame him, he has nothing to work with.  Nobody does.
     A thriller is built on tension.  Bree (Kate Mara), the leader of R.I.F.T., is hardly a threat to Will, or the vast super computer form he has come to inhabit, and Will’s comes off as too benevolent  to pose a threat to Bree (not that we care), despite some ambiguity.
     At least they didn’t put it in 3D—it’s bad enough in 2 dimensions.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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