For me, the biggest problem with Science-Fiction is that new ideas in this film are very rare. There’s usually something about animal testing, a potential cure for cancer, Artificial Intelligence, technology taking over, and that pesky thing called love. Why does love need to be so prevalent in a film about science and technology? In most mediocre Sci-Fi films, those themes are all present and the film is less than stellar. If the film can pull it off, more power to em’. If not, you’re in for a frustrating time.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the mind of his time and is on the brink of creating Artificial Intelligence. He sees the prospective outcomes as a positive for our society and planet. His wife and fellow worker, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), seeks to create a better and healthier Earth. Together, they’re an unstoppable and scientific force that could change the world. With the aid of their friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), the two lead a conference that illuminates the possibility of the future they see. During said conference, Artificial Intelligence labs all over the country are hit simultaneously by a cyber-terrorist group (headed by Kate Mara) and after the conference, Will is shot in cold blood.
As he spends his final weeks with his wife, Evelyn and Max attempt to hook up Will’s mind to his AI system, in an effort to keep part of him alive. When their efforts succeed, Will becomes the AI and attempts to prove that he’s sentient. Evelyn is ecstatic, but Max can’t help but think that it’s not really Will. Once Will is uploaded to the internet, he has unlimited access to everything and begins constructing and utilizing nanites. As things go awry, Evelyn is blinded by her love and Max, with the help of FBI Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) and Scientist Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), is trying to put a stop to Will before things get out of hand.
Transcendence is a mess of a film. It’s equal parts good and bad and that makes it a complex film to write about. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the film and all the possibilities its plot entails and I hate to say that this film is somewhat of a misfire. It could have been really good, but it falls short due to a lot of issues with its script, story, and execution of a dozen different plot points.If anything, the subject matter is what keeps you awake and listening.
The possibility for Artificial Intelligence (AI) is as cool as it is alarming. A sentient system that can carry out its own orders yields a lot of great potential. The prospects of nanites pop up and their ability to cure and reconstruct damaged cells in a human sounds like a miracle. The good that an AI can do is astounding, but it can also do a lot of bad, as it lacks emotion. The system lacks what makes us humans and it could make the hard decisions that we never could. Its view of perfection comes down to a human’s full potential and it may alter our beings to “perfect” us. This concept is really interesting and ethics come in to play, which only heightens your interest. The concept is fully fleshed out and it’s always getting more complex. I felt intellectually stimulated whenever the issue was at hand and I greatly enjoyed the more scientific portions of this film, as they’re handled really well.
The visuals in this film are all kinds of glorious and they’re going to create waves, even when the rest of the film doesn’t. No matter what’s happening with the lackluster story, there are always amassing effects and visuals in the background that grab hold of your attention and remind you that this film isn’t all that bad. The special effects for the nanites and AI systems are jaw dropping and you’re always wondering how they were created. There are also many gorgeous shots of the Earth and the effects that the nanites could have to help heal the planet. All the action looks good and the set pieces blend in well for what the story demands.
When you’ve got a film that bills Johnny Depp as the lead, audiences have come to expect a level of dedication to his performance and usually a new accent. However, that couldn’t be more true for this film. Even when he’s not an emotionless AI, he’s boring and seems like he doesn’t give a damn about anything. Rebecca Hall gets emotional when the story needs her to be, but her character is also really bland and her motivations are questionable. Her character changes rapidly and there’s no reason for that. Paul Bettany is great, but he doesn’t get nearly enough time to make an impact on the film. Kate Mara’s character is expendable and her little team is useless. Even Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, two outstanding and memorable actors, have nothing to add to this film. With average performances from pretty great actors, how do you expect people to care about your film?
This film’s premise gets you hooked from the get-go and then just as quickly, the film decided to create many different subplots that amount to nothing in the end. Rather than focusing on an AI system and its possibilities, the film decides that we want to see the struggle of love between Hall and Depp, in a manner that comes off as some sort of Her spin-off. Then, the film decided that it’s all about nanites and their ability to perfect humanity and the Earth. That idea takes hold and then the film tried to justify this new aspect of the story. There’s also the cyber-terrorist group that you forget about and that’s practically worthless, as they do their best to try to emulate the eco-terrorist group from The East. This film borrows from ever Sci-Fi film ever and uses their concepts in the name of love. This movie could have been awesome and all about the science, but it was hacked by the virus known as love, and the whole system fails because of it.
Transcendence is an average Sci-Fi flick that is never able to transcend its characters and story. An incredible idea lies at the center of this film, but it’s surrounded by a dozen other poor ideas that keep it from making an impact. The visuals and scientific ideas are all strengths that this film has, but for some, they won’t be enough to satisfy. The film comes off as the newest and most awesome piece of science fiction, but it feels more like a three-hour lovefest that only piques your interest when some visual catches your eye, or when a new theory entices your mind. I wanted to like this film, but it’s a tough code to crack.