Wally Pfister is one of the finest cinematographers working today- his work with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception has earned him numerous awards and has established him as perhaps the best in the business today. With that in mind and with all due respect I have to say, based on Transcendence, perhaps you should stick to your day job Wally.
Transcendence is not so much a bad movie but more a horrible misfire. An A list cast, a big budget and a few interesting ideas made this look like it could be one of the Summer’s most attractive blockbusters, but somewhere along the way it all went horribly wrong.
Johnny Depp takes on the lead role of Will Caster, one of the worlds leading minds in artificial intelligence design. A group of activists don’t take too kindly to his work and poor old Johnny is bumped off in a rather daft fashion. His wife, Evelyn, played by Rebecca Hall, then, after a minute or two of consideration opts to upload his consciousness to a computer so he can live through it. Paul Bettany, cast as Caster’s best friend exists to provide the movie with a moral conscience, his role is simple enough; patronise the audience and remind them what is going on every five minutes with the help of Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara, as one of the movie’s antagonists, well at the start anyway.
See Mara embodies two of the movie’s biggest problems- the first of which being that the casting is incredibly strange. Kate Mara with the help of a peroxide job really doesn’t feel sinister, or radical enough to be the leader of a group of activists, Johnny Depp, the guy who in recent years has made a career out of wearing silly hats really doesn’t work as one of the world’s most intelligent and influential minds, whilst Morgan Freeman feels cast, well just to be Morgan Freeman. Paul Bettany (will someone just give this guy a decent role?) and Rebecca Hall make the most of their roles, despite a terrible script which baby steps its audience through the plot.
The second of the movie’s biggest problems is that in trying to be so ambiguous with it’s morality it gets lost and as an audience it becomes increasingly difficult to invest anything in any of the characters. As the human race is being threatened by the rejected member of the Hal 9000 family we sit and just beg the crazy computer to just put us and the world out if its misery by destroying everyone.
Comparisons to the work of Christopher Nolan are inevitable- Inception especially. If Inception showed us one thing it’s that a main stream audience aren’t as stupid as studios tend to perceive. Intelligent blockbusters which don’t feel the need to patronise their audiences should have been the way forward in a post Inception world but if Transcendence is anything to go by then cinema is doing the total opposite.
The movie has ideas well above its station and a dumb script really makes it an incredibly nauseating watch at times. If you’re going to try and baffle your audience with stupid rules, then your film should at least try and adhere to them itself.
Thematically the movie feels incredibly tired. Man good, computers bad- you’ve seen it all before, and you’ve seen it done infinitely better than this clusterfuck. With such a tried and tested thematic approach the movie tries to inject some life into old ideas by adding a love story to the plot- simply put, it doesn’t work.
If the movie has a saving grace it’s that it looks the part. Was there ever any doubt that a movie directed by Wally Pfister was going to look brilliant? The effects are lazy however and really fail to add to the spectacle, especially in a third act that you wish would stop transcending and just hurry up ending.
Verdict: Transcendence may well be the biggest flop of the year so far. The movie feels tired and slow and offers very little in the way of excitement or intellect. Go back to cinematography Wally, all will be forgotten.