Saturday, 27 September 2014


When Transcendence was released, critics were not kind to it. In fact they completely destroyed Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. So going into it I was rightly concerned about what I was about to watch. Sure it had a great cast, with such names as Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy appearing in the film but it also has 19% on RottenTomatoes. Well that’s what the critics think; I am of a slightly different opinion.

The film shows the journey of married scientists Will and Evelyn Caster as they try and develop the realm of artificial intelligence by attempting to insert a human consciousness into a computer. After Will is shot by radical eco-terrorists who want the world to ‘unplug’ Evelyn is made to use the technology to ‘upload’ Will’s brain onto a computer before he dies. This portion of the film, shown to death in all the trailers, is the real weak point; we know uploading Will is going to work from the beginning but Pfister seemed determined to spend too much time on it. It’s after this point, when Will is allowed access to the internet, that things start to take a much more interesting and unique turn. Things escalate quickly from there; Will hacks into banks to give his wife money, Evelyn buys a plot of land to make a solar panel farm to power Will, then human/robot hybrids appear and so on. This was all in the trailers but saying more would ruin it. It’s this later stuff, the questionable stuff about Will and what he’s doing, where the film shines. It might take a while to get going but once it does, you start to see that the film is perhaps not all that bad.

With cinematographer turned director Wally Pfistor at the helm the film look much nicer than the trailers would lead you to believe. Shot on film rather than the now almost standard digital, you often forget about some of the films problems simply because it looks so nice. The strongest aspects of the film though, are the stars within it. While it does seem Johnny Depp is the main character, it’s probably best not to think of it as a ‘Johnny Depp film’, rather it’s much more of a showcase for the talents of Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany. Both are much stronger in the film than Depp and actually do halfway decent jobs of making Transcedence seem respectable even when lines like ‘we need to turn off the internet’ are uttered. Lines like these are the real problem as they suggest the viewers are idiots who have no idea how the internet and computers work. I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure you can’t cut off all technology with a thin copper mesh along one wall. I get that some films need you to suspend your disbelief but Transcendence seems to have a lot of these moments and eventually the leaps of logic become too much. By the end you don’t care much what happens to any of the characters, except perhaps Paul Bettany, who somehow manages to come out of the film with his dignity still in check.

Transcendence is also incredibly on-the-nose with its symbolism and messages. For example; after the world is completely electronically shut down (not a spoiler, this scene opens the film) we see a man prop open a door with a useless laptop. Why? Do they not have door stops in the future? I get what their trying to say but the whole thing seems a little too much like a student film. Despite all of this though, I find it hard to award this film with less than 3 stars. The film is over the top, in both themes and suspension of disbelief but it’s not ‘bad’. In fact the actors do a very good job and the finale is awesome, and regardless of problems the whole ‘has man gone too far?’ theme is explored well. While not bad, Transcendence is perhaps more easily recommended to those who are fans of the actors or themes, or to those who just have nothing better to watch.

Transcendence gets a decent 3/5.


Tom Bumby

Transcendence at CeX

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