Transcendence Review

The Plot:

Dr Will Caster, a brilliant scientist on the verge of creating a powerful new artificial intelligence, is fatally injured in an assassination attempt by a violent anti-technology organisation. His desperate wife and best friend help copy his consciousness onto a computer as he slowly dies. But who or what have they really created…?

The Good:

Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister makes a solid directing debut, with a movie that actually bears many of Nolan’s hallmarks. Transcendence is an intelligent science fiction film that refreshingly relies more on big ideas than big explosions. It shuns cheap theatrics and superfluous action set pieces in favour of a serious exploration of the growing interface between man and machine.

The film packs artificial intelligence, nano-technology, gene therapies, matter manipulation, hive minds and environmental control into one simple and cohesive narrative. It’s a story that also manages to avoid all the usual genre clichés of secret government organisations or megalomaniac billionaire villains. For science fiction fans it’s likely to be a welcome change from a lazy combination of Transformers and pyrotechnics.

The film is helped along by a genuinely impressive cast which includes Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Paul Bettany. Rebecca Hall in particular carries much of the film, as her character struggles to reconcile her love for her husband with her growing uncertainty about what ‘he’ is becoming. Johnny Depp and his familiar husky tones also breathe convincing electronic life into the increasingly omniscient and morally ambiguous digital copy of Dr Will Caster.

The Bad:

Although Transcendence touches readily on a whole range of interesting philosophical and technological issues, in truth there’s actually fairly limited discussion surrounding these ideas. Clever concepts provide the film with plot points and a sense of narrative momentum, but never quiet give it the same aura of profound depth that film’s like Inception accomplished with much simpler ideas. Perhaps with Nolan directing and help from a Hans Zimmer soundtrack the film could have attracted enough attention/emotion to have an impact on pop culture and at the box office.

Fans expecting typical blockbuster action may be left disappointed by the films slow burning technological drama. Though it might be welcomed from a low-budget indie effort, it’s not what audiences naturally expect from a heavily marketed Hollywood film with a $100million dollar budget and a truly A-List cast.

Much of the cast have little to do with their considerable talents. Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara could all easily have been replaced by less familiar and gifted performers.  Their mere presence lends the film credibility at the cost of heighted audience expectations that are never truly met.

The Ugly Truth:

Transcendence deserves much better than its weak box office opening. It’s actually a thoughtful and well-crafted technological thriller that echoes many classic sci-fi films and explores intriguing possibilities for mankind’s future.

Leave A Comment