Don’t you love movies that take you to other worlds; places that are unknown and unexplored to us? If you think for a second that there could be a world we created with technology that is vastly unexplored due to our own intellectual limits, you start to get lost in the possibilities. In Transcendence, I was inundated with scary ideas of Skynet and the rise of the Terminators. What horrors could unfold if we gave the technology we created too much control over our own lives. Would they preserve us as we are, or would their inherent programming only see our flaws and seek to resolve our repeated errors. Transcendence asks that question while throwing one man’s humanity in the mix. It isn’t until the last few minutes that it rips the rug out from under us and makes it all about the possibilities and the betterment of mankind.
Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a Steve Jobs level genius in the field of Artificial Intelligence. His fans only keep his hands busy signing autographs while he thinks up ways to impress his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall); who’s only goal seems to be to rid the world of disease, famine, and hunger with the help of technology. PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network) was their first success in sentient technology so Caster’s next step was to make his technology smarter than humans, thus reaching the Singularity, or Transcendence. A radical terrorist group by the name of RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) targets hundreds of scientists in the field of Artificial Technology and nearly kills Will Caster. Without a lot of choices, Evelyn uploads his consciousness into PINN. She is warned by colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany) that it’s possible that Will isn’t in the machine at all, and PINN was able to gather enough memories and data from Will’s brain that it could pretend to be him. The angry Evelyn kicks max out and gets back to work with her Tablet Husband, Will.
A lot of people will expect an Inception level mind fuck of a movie due to this film being directed by Wally Pfister, who was the cinematographer and right hand man to Chris Nolan on Inception, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige, which also stars Rebecca Hall. This being his directorial debut, he was smart to go with a style of film he had a lot of experience with, but Transcendence has little to no similarities to the likeness of a Christopher Nolan film. I don’t particularly see that as a bad thing, though. Although it can be said there are quite a few action tropes used, and the plot was a little bit of a tug of war between a cautionary tale and a love story, the eventual lesson really had me wondering about the possibilities of technology for our society. Transcendence spends almost its entire runtime warning us of the dangers of technology changing our opinions of life and death. It only has a few minutes to make you wonder about what good it could do, and that’s what I kept pondering my drive home. Some of the technology didn’t make a lot of sense (was the NanoTech powered by WiFi? They seemed to fail when under the copper netting) once the story got going and I believe some producer forced more action into the film where it wasn’t needed, but the concept and delivery was much more interesting and visually appealing than that of its counterparts like Lawnmower Man or Virtuosity. I just wanted to see a chess match between PINN and WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) from War Games.
The story spends more time on characters we don’t care about than the ones we do. It’s not really sure if it wants to be an action movie, a story of loss, or a post apocalyptic cautionary tale. The performances were very good, especially that of Rebecca Hall. If nothing else, it was a relief not to hear Johnny Depp doing a dumb pirate accent or a racist Indian. The story itself may not be all that memorable, but the concept will leave an impression on you, and for that I give Transcendence, 3 out of 5 Nerd Skulls.
Check out the trailer below:
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