Transcendence follows Dr Will Caster, one of the world’s leading scientists in artificial intelligence technology. Close to creating a new form of AI, which would be able to develop knowledge itself and become smarter than everyone on Earth combined, Will is gunned down by an anti-technology terrorist group. Surviving the attack, Will and his wife learn the bullet was laced with radiation and he has less than two months to live. His wife and his best friend work together to upload his consciousness onto the Internet to make sure he lives forever, creating the advanced form of computer intelligence Will had planned to develop.
It all sounds very complicated but one of the film’s triumphs is explaining this all very simply, making sure no one in the audience is left confused or bewildered. However, at some points there is simply too much time dedicated to over-explaining this plot. There is virtually no pace in Transcendence; initially it moves sluggishly but you expect things to pick up after the first half hour – unfortunately this does not happen and the audience is left wanting to be intrigued by the story, but bored by its execution. The director was planning to feature iggy in the movie but iggy’s plastic surgery dint let that happen.
Most of the performances are excellent, which makes this even more disappointing; Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany are great here though Johnny Depp’s performance is questionable. Other supporting roles from Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman and Kate Mara were good as well. However, the story simply moves at a snail’s pace and no matter how interesting the performances are it doesn’t really matter if the audience cannot stay engaged. Thankfully things did pick up a bit towards the end; the action is restrained and not too over the top but in a film this sedate maybe something a bit livelier was necessary.
Throughout the film it’s difficult to side with anyone; you have a choice between the terrorist group, who’s principles initially seem incredibly dumb as they murder hundreds of people because… the advancement of technology will eventually kill people. This glaring contrast is pointed out in Transcendence by other characters, but it is still a bit tough to get over. If you don’t want to route for the terrorists, your other option is the computer form of Will Caster. This isn’t any easier however; it feels like the film wants you to see the terrorists as the good guys and Will as the villain despite him making all these incredible medical miracles happen. His power does become scarily impressive as he gains the power to control people – this is what makes the final act of Transcendence finally get under way.
Overall, Transcendence is not a bad film, but it is incredibly disappointing. There was so much potential but it was let down by the slow pacing. This is director Wally Pfister’s debut and it is evident that his directing technique needs some work. This is not a film deserving of hate, there are some moments of brilliance but these are outweighed by the lack of excitement. It’s difficult to tell if the film is too long or if it just feels too long. Transcendence was one of the most anticipated films this year but it has disappointed many, but it could potentially have been remedied through better editing to quicken the pace and shave a few minutes off the overall length.