“Transcendence” is much less of a science-fiction thriller than the trailers portrayed. It is a much quieter, more existential film about the dangers of technology and the power of nature. After a conference of the world’s leading minds on artificial intelligence, several of the world’s most brilliant minds are targeted by a terrorist group called R.I.F.T. After being shot, Will Caster’s consciousness is uploaded onto a computer to save him.
“Transcendence” is impeccably cast and has quite a few impressive actors including Johnny Depp (“The Lone Ranger”), Morgan Freeman (“Last Vegas”), Rebecca Hall (“Closed Circuit”), Paul Bettany (“Iron Man 3”) and Cillian Muphy (“The Dark Knight Rises”). It is refreshing to see Depp in a role that isn’t hiding behind some kind of quirky behavior. While he does a decent job in the role, it is really Hall that carries the piece and is the emotional core holding it together. While the cast is rounded with top notch actors, they aren’t given a whole lot to do. Murphy and Freeman were especially underutilized.
From first time director Wally Pfister, this film was visually stunning. Pfister, best known as the director of photography on most of Christopher Nolan’s films such as “Inception” and “The Dark Knight,” tells the story much more in visuals than he does through dialogue. “Transcendence” is beautifully shot.
While dealing with thought-provoking concepts, the biggest problem “Transcendence” has is that the second act crawls along at a snail’s pace. The first and third acts were fine, it was the middle part that dragged. It built up the climactic third act but it took forever to get anywhere.
This ultimately felt like buildup for a rather rushed ending to the third act. The plot progresses in a way that makes sense – considering it is dealing with more science-fiction concepts – but the build-up was a long and arduous journey that ultimately resulted in a quick fix to the plot. Eventually it just drops into obscurity and doesn’t even take the time to explain all the preposterous things that are going on.
If the stagnating second act had been cut down, the film overall would have been a much better experience. The first 45 minutes of the film actually flew by. Then there’s just a massive halt in the plotline and it doesn’t pick up until the last 20 minutes. There is about an hour where nothing really happens.
“Transcendence” isn’t wholly irredeemable. The cast is good, especially Hall, who is forced to carry the boring middle section of the film. Her performance does add emotional weight when the film desperately needed it. Pfister does a marvelous job as a first time director. Even if at some points in the film you aren’t as engaged as you should be, at least you have pleasing visuals to look at.
The biggest problem with “Transcendence,” besides the second act, is that the film was just completely marketed incorrectly as a science-fiction thriller. In reality, it is more a more high concept film about God and the soul, using technology to explore the themes. It turns in a few good performances but ultimately “Transcendence” is a letdown.