Transcendence Review

Posted: May 27, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

37370840-a55a-11e3-b43d-ff33a164400e_transcendence_poster_blogWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I never had any expectations for Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, but I was pretty shocked when Transcendence opened to savagely brutal reviews. A 15% on Rotten Tomatoes? The film certainly didn’t like that bad. The film also bombed at the box-office despite a well-known cast and a lot of marketing. In the wake of such a well-rounded failure, many a think piece was written to account for why critics were so harsh and audiences so apathetic. I have a suggestion; the film truly is that bad.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist who is making significant breakthroughs in A.I. Research with the help of his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend (Paul Bettany). However, an anti-technology terrorist group known as RIFT has emerged. They attempt to assassinate Will Caster with a radioactive bullet. As Will’s body withers away, Evelyn decides to upload Will’s concious as an A.I. The attempt is successful, but the result brings dark potential.

There are countless stories about A.I. across all media, and there are even already stories of humans and A.I. crossing over. Therefore, for a story like this to stand out, the ideas need to be really unique and the execution needs to be really good. Unfortunately, neither are the case here. The basic premise of, “What if a man…was a computer!” There’s no true exploration of ideas and the approach is so dull that what little is there isn’t the least bit interesting. The film does try to cram in some last minute ideas and allegories, but their inclusion feels so forced and awkward there almost laughable. The lack of ideas, coupled with a bit of the film’s anti-technology content makes Transcendence feel like it was written fifteen years ago.

In addition to being dated and shallow, the script has a lot of other problems. The dialogue here is horrible. Most of the lines are dry tech-talk, and any attempt at more human/humourous/romantic conversation falls completely flat. Some lines are laughably bad too. I nearly bust a gut when Johnny Depp said, “We’re not gonna beat them, we’re gonna transcend them.” The characters here are also really bland and completely lacking in personality. It’s also worth noting that not much actually happens in the film. Most of the time, characters are just vaguely talking about the dangers of something. In fact, one of the few times something is happening, the film skips ahead two years.

Any hope of Transcendence scrapping by as okay is completely destroyed by director Wally Pfister. Pfister may be a great cinematographer, but his direction is completely lacking in humanity. There’s just no emotion or rhythm to anything. Scenes start and stop, but the editing is so perfunctory that the film becomes boring really quickly. There’s just something about how Pfister stages scenes that feels off. When the third act came around and the action started to kick in, I thought things might get more interesting, but these scenes are just as awkward as everything else, if not more so. The acting here is also really bad. Despite collecting a talented cast, Pfister is unable to get strong performances. Most scenes feel odd, and Johnny Depp is especially bad. I think the only two cast members who come out looking okay are Paul Bettany and Rebecca Hall, who seem to genuinely be trying.

The film isn’t all bad. The cinematography is perfectly acceptable, as is the score, and the film clearly does have some money behind it, with solid special effects and production design. I also liked the make-up effects used through Johnny Depp’s transformation in the third act. But the thing is, the film never excels in any of these departments, there just handled competently. It makes me think of a movie made by a computer. The technical elements meet the standard, but the film lacks a soul.

Wally Pfister’s first film should never have been a 100 million dollar blockbuster. On a smaller project, Pfister might have been able to hone his skills as a filmmaker (though I’m skeptical given this doesn’t show a lot of promise). Even if that film had failed, it wouldn’t have been the large-scale embarrassment Transcendence is. Embarrassing is indeed the key word. Wally Pfister is a talented guy, and it’s depressing to see him, and the cast, waste their time like this. Hopefully they all return to better things. As for Transcendence; the film fails as science-fiction, fails as human drama, and fails as an action film. The few things it doesn’t mess up are enough to keep the film from garnering an F, but only just barely.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. Had plenty of ideas that it seemed to want to get out, but just couldn’t do so in a smart, understandable way. It was just too much of a mess.

  2. My condolences. You sat through this. :)

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