Sci-Fi is where we place our anxieties about the future, or at least our anxieties about today in a future setting to parallel it subtly (or not so subtly). In our day and age, that’s usually worries about the future of healthcare, the planet and its natural resources, but also how long we will have our precious, precious Internet. Turns out, we probably nothing to worry about if this film is anything to go by.
Let’s take a look at Transcendence.
The film follows Dr. Will Castor, one of many scientists working towards “the singularity” or “transcendence” when computers are smarter than the humans that made them. A terrorist group called R.I.F.T pulls off an attack to try and take down as many scientists working on the research as possible, shooting Castor with a radioactive bullet. Before his untimely demise, his wife and best friend try to upload his consciousness into a computer. Whether or not they succeed in getting him upload is questionable but something “comes to life” and gets online. Within two years, the Castor-computer begins to create incredibly life-changing technologies but begins to show its declining humanity, and R.I.F.T is back to try and shut him down, for good.
The biggest issue isn’t that Depp is a bad actor, it’s that he is completely dead behind the eyes. He could have played the character with passion or at least a spark of intellect. I’m almost sure he only cracks a smile twice in the entire film, and he’s supposed to be in love throughout the film. Depp has proven that not only is he past his prime but he’s exhausted from being tossed from one big blockbuster to the next, desperate for a second wind that hasn’t come. None of the films he’s been in over the last three years have shown any of the Depp we’ve loved, full of life and passion, and most of all, talent. It’s a good thing he’s a computer for the majority of the film since it more or less explains away the flatness of his performance.
The acting side of things are more or less saved by his co-stars, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany, whose desperation and hopelessness seemed genuine and at points, moving. Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, and Cillian Murphy had little to do but wait for the action but their performances still held up under a cliche and rushed script.
The premise itself may not be original but it is interesting enough to hold the movie together til the credits. What would happen if the singularity occurred when a massive super computer linked to a (arguably partially and poorly constructed) human consciousness. It is already taught morality without the standard Three Laws of Robotics, which makes it more complex and possibly more flexible. It has a desire to learn and grow without the limits of a human. And yet the movie proves persuasively why this is a terrible idea. Still the nanotechnology that does everything from cleaning the air to healing every ailment seems a little too convenient, the tool by which all plot holes are avoided or tossed aside.
What doesn’t hold up is the motivations of the anti-tech terrorist group R.I.F.T. Case in point, what are they exactly? I understand the goal is to unplug from technologies and avoid essentially what ends up happening in the film. But why? Do they believe it’s evil on a religious level, a moral one, a humanistic one? I understand they believe that technology needs to be monitored so it doesn’t grow out of control but on what basis? They are willing to kill for their beliefs so the barest minimum of an explanation as to why they are so possessed by these ideas.
You can tell this film was shot by a cinematographer (best known for his work on the Nolan Batman series and Inception) because it looks gorgeous. For a debut film, the director is well done overall, but the writing does not help the film in any way. It, like Depp’s performance, falls flat with lifeless dialogue and dry sentiment.
Transcendence does not transcend above mediocrity. The saddest part is that there was some real potential for the film to be great but the script kept holding it back. With a better writer and maybe a better lead this movie could have been an important addition to the science-fiction collective, but as it is, it’s just another soon-to-be-forgotten tale of man and machine.
– Beautifully shot and well directed.
– Good acting.
– Strong overall concept.
– Weak writing.
– Depp’s performance fall flat.
– Poor character motivation.