Thursday, April 17, 2014


Transcendence is a movie about the Singularity. Without spoiling anything the trailer doesn't, the plot runs like this: Johnny Depp is Will Caster, a scientist working on artificial intelligence. A group of luddite-terrorists kill him, but not before his wife Evelyn (played by Rebecca Hall) and their friend Max Waters (played by Paul Bettany) upload his consciousness into a machine. From there, the movie explores the nature of this uploaded intelligence and the consequences of its existence.

If that sounds like a really great plot, then sorry for getting your hopes up. The movie's pacing could charitably be called "contemplative" though I suspect most reviewers will go with "slow" or "plodding." The plot has more holes than a block of swiss cheese. I spent the vast majority of the movie irritated by the decisions and actions of all of the characters, and while the closing scene casts some of those actions in a different light, it does not make up for the preceding two hours of aggravation.

To understand why this movie is what it is, look no further than the director. This is Wally Pfister's first direction credit, but he was Director of Photography on Inception, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and other Christopher Nolan projects. Nolan co-executive-produced Transcendence. So, the movie looks very much like a Nolan movie (which is not a bad thing) and, like Inception, wants to be profound and deep (even the score is heavily reminiscent of Inception). But it isn't.

Probably a lot of the blame for that falls on the writer, Jack Paglen. With acknowledgement that producers, studios, the director, and others have a great deal of influence on the final product, the script appears to be severely lacking the intelligence and technical knowledge that this movie needed in order to work. This is Paglen's first credit, though apparently he is writing Prometheus 2 and the upcoming Battlestar Galactica movie reboot. I am not encouraged.

Broadly speaking, there are two major problems with the plot: the actions of the artificial intelligence, and the actions of everyone else. The artificial intelligence is supposed to be the consciousness of a genius made massively more capable through the application of computing power (the latter of which is a dubious assertion in my book). And yet, its plans and actions are neither intelligent nor in keeping with the personality of the man. The ending does not completely fix this problem. Of course, without the AI's hamfisted scheme, we would not have the conflict which makes up the bulk of the movie, wherein everyone else, regardless of how smart he is supposed to be, reacts to the AI with blind fear, and makes a lot of stupid decisions in the process. The luddites start the movie this way, and it's hard to object to them as characters - I know people like that. Everyone else, though, should know better.

The acting is decent enough, though nothing spectacular. Johnny Depp's makeup is fabulous through the pre-transcendence scenes. The cinematography and effects are quite good. This comes nowhere close to making up for the film's deficiencies.

Performance: 3/5
Plot: 1.5/5
Production: 3.5/5
Overall: 2/5
Bechdel: Fail
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Fail
What are these?

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Lone Survivor
3. The Wind Rises
4. The Lego Movie
5. Lust For Love
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Pompeii
8. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
9. I, Frankenstein
10. Monuments Men
11. Knights of Badassdom
12. Divergent
13. 300: Rise of an Empire
14. RoboCop
15. Winter's Tale
16. Transcendence
17. Noah
18. The Legend of Hercules
19. Need For Speed
20. 3 Days to Kill

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