transcendence

Transcendence could have been a groundbreaking film, providing integral analysis about the danger and potential of the singularity and modern technology, but rather than successfully tackle the question of man + technology, director Wally Pfister and company left me wondering why the technology in HIS film felt so basic, and why such an incredible idea could be reduced to a boring, forgettable exercise.

The concepts are all there. Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are a super team of scientists, partners in their profession and in love. When a terrorist group of anti-transcendence tech types, led by Bree (Kate Mara), tries to shut down all the artificial intelligence (AI) facilities and attacks Will, Evelyn and Will decide to upload Will’s brain to PINN, the last remaining AI system and fuse them together. What could possibly go wrong – or right?

Caught in the midst of this Max Waters (Paul Bettany), who is a dear friend of the Casters but also believes there is a great danger in giving an AI system too much power. His fears are proven correct – or are they – as the viewer observes the growth of the transcendent Will and the opposition against him. The FBI gets involved, the terrorists try and recruit Waters, but all along, the real question is: How much of this is Will and how much was PINN?

On its face, even the plot synopsis sounds intriguing, and it should have been. Where the movie fails is in its execution. The pacing is painfully slow, which would be all right if the story kept building toward grander, more majestic moments, but it never quite gets there. There are miraculous things that happen, but somehow they don’t dazzle. A little more bombast and imagery could have done Transcendence a lot of good.

Where the movie does not fail is in the acting, which boasts a slew of strong performances, as you might expect from Depp, Hall, and Bettany, along with Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, who are just fine in their roles. Even Mara, who has sported an up-and-down career to this point, does an adequate job as a techno-terrorist, though she and her team are far below the levels presented by the eco-terrorists in The East, both in script-writing and in thespianship.

Transcendence could have been a spectacular film, but the Hollywood sign is pixelated by stories of woulda, coulda, shoulda’s. Instead, it settles for forgettable mediocrity, and even though it raises some quality questions in its final turn, the viewer has already lost interest. Maybe the film needed a bit more of a human touch.

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