After years as a cinematographer, it makes sense to finally move into the director’s chair. Working alongside Christopher Nolan — along with winning an Oscar for Inception — means you big shoes to fill in your big debut. If anything, Wally Pfister’s Transcendence is at least the kind of big idea film you’d expect out of a Nolan cronie. The only thing holding the film back is trying to create the type of urgency screenwriter Jack Paglen lacks in his story.
Brimming with ideas, it all starts to fall flat in the end, holding the film back from making its own transcendence.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is an artificial intelligence researcher, working alongside his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend Max (Paul Bettany). After a conference, Will is shot by a radioactive-laced bullet and now has only five weeks to live. Devastated, Will, Evelyn, and Max decide to upload him into their own AI program to save Will’s life. After Will dies, his consciousness is successfully integrated into the machine and Will and Evelyn go off the grid when a group of extremists — led by Bree (Kate Mara) — begin to hunt them down, taking Max hostage. Now, fellow researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) are convinced that Will is building an army, and may or may not have more sinister plans than Evelyn wants to admit.
There are a lot of big ideas floating around Transcendence, but none that seem to get off the ground. Had the film been faster paced, maybe the ending wouldn’t have felt so anticlimactic. It just takes forever to get to the point. It touches on the issues of technology taking over our lives, and Pfister keeps things looking as big and shiny as you’d expect from a Nolan production, but the pacing is a huge issue, no thanks to editor David Rosenbloom. Working with lots of prior Nolan cast members maintains a high level of acting, but the finale never feels as epic as it should be.
The best idea that sticks is when someone at the conference asks Will if he wants to create his own God to which he replies: “Isn’t that what man has always done?” Had they stuck to those kinds of ideas, instead of opting for gunfights and explosions, Pfister may have had the kind of grand scale thinking man’s sci-fi thriller he was aiming for. If you’re interested in seeing the film, you won’t be let down. However, if you already think it doesn’t look for you, there is more here than you’d think. At least Johnny Depp isn’t stuck in another wacky role, which is a kind of Transcendence in and of itself for any film.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
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