By Eddie Burton (New Jersey)
Transcendence was a movie I was looking forward to seeing, however, a movie I don’t want to talk about. It’s too painful. More importantly, to complicated. The movie stars Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, a researcher studying Artificial Intelligence developing a machine with both human emotion and intelligence of everything known in the universe. Assisting him on this project is his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), Max Waters (Paul Bettany), and Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman).
Problems arise when an anti-technology group takes drastic measures to stop Will in his quest to basically create a second God. The group comes up with a devious plan to kill Will and it works. They laced the bullet with poison which causes Will to die from radiation poison. However, the love and devotion from Will’s wife, Evelyn brings him back from the dead and turns him into a piece of software. How? Well, that’s the biggest problem with the movie. Nothing is explained!
The technology aspect of the film plays a big part in the movie obviously, but you can’t appreciate the science when it makes no sense. More importantly than that, you as a viewer can’t follow it. The writer had the mindset to “use big words and the audience will buy it.” Um, no. That’s not how it works. This isn’t a Stallone movie. Besides, even he can’t get a free ride when it comes to logic in film anymore. Times have changed and audiences have gotten a lot smarter and have somewhat raised the bar when it comes to the final cut of a movie. You can’t just bring someone back from the dead and say “well that just happened.” Take the time to write a logical explanation as to how it happened.
Now, in all fairness, when you create a realistic atmosphere and surround yourself by supernatural events, it can be tough to keep that sense of realism throughout the entirety of the movie. But, it’s nowhere near impossible. As shown by previous other writers like Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) or Stanley Kubrick (The Shining). Jack Paglen, who wrote this movie, either didn’t know how to write this type of film or was too lazy to take the time to think creatively.
The reason why this movie is so challenging to talk about is because I was very anxious to see this film. So much so, I saw it in IMAX (big mistake), namely because Johnny Depp is finally getting out of the goofy, cartoony character phase and moving back into actually acting. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed the goofy, cartoony Johnny Depp, but it’s sort of worn out its welcome in the past five years or so. Simply because Depp uses that style for every role he takes on. Jack Sparrow. Mad Hatter. Barnabas Collins. Even Tonto!
At last, were going to see Johnny Depp without twenty pounds of makeup and mannerisms a man wasted beyond belief wouldn’t be caught dead doing. Which brings me to one of the redeemable qualities of the movie. The performances by Depp and the rest of the cast are very good. Despite the films flaws, it was refreshing to see Johnny Depp do something different. Morgan Freeman was very good as was Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy. Rebecca Hall gave the shining performance however. The character she plays could have/should have been the main focus. She’s the most intriguing character in the whole picture. Yes, the guy trying to take over the world with technology is less interesting than the wife whose role seems to be secretary for Will.
The film though lacks focus and logic. This is Wally Pfister’s directional debut and it shows. The story is nearly impossible to follow or comprehend because it wants to throw everything at you. This one movie could’ve been a trilogy of films. There are so many places you can take this idea but they, for whatever reason, decided to cram everything into one movie. It doesn’t take the time to focus on one plot point and take it to its full potential. Another issue with the movie ties into lack of focus. You really don’t know who are the good guys and the bad guys. The lines are blurred when they shouldn’t be. I’m all for letting the audience choose sides, but this is not the movie where you blur the lines. It’s not the right story and Pfister didn’t pick a talented enough writer to find equilibrium.
Altogether, Transcendence disappoints in every sense of the word and will no doubt flop at the box office. Yes, the acting is good but it doesn’t make up for the unfocused plot and no nonsense script. Transcendence could’ve been something special if Wally Pfister took the time to realize what he had and what he could do with it. It’s a real shame.