Movie Review – Transcendence (2014)

Transcendence, 2014.

Directed by Wally Pfister.
Starring Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara and Clifton Collins Jr.



As Dr. Will Caster works toward his goal of creating an omniscient, sentient machine, a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent him from establishing a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.


During the empty screening of Transcendence, I noticed a few things. The first, Rebecca Hall wears her trousers about an inch or two too high. Second, the cup holder the right of me protruded from the chair in a distractedly awkward manner. And third, Futurama did it better. In the hands of a more efficient, experienced director and with a script that didn’t read as if written by a think tank of those with no knowledge of intelligent science fiction, I would not have noticed these (except Rebecca Hall’s ankles, those trousers are really high).

Sentient Tim Burton dreamscape Johnny Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a scientist working towards the goals of creating an omniscient machine. His plans are halted abruptly when an anti-technology terrorist organisation shoot him down-lead by Kate Mara-forcing his budding sidekicks Max Waters (Paul Bettany) and wife Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) to upload his consciousness. From there, a series of predictable, tedious and unrelentingly dull set-pieces undermine what could have been something truly interesting.

One would hope Wally Pfister’s experience working with Christopher Nolan would rub off on his directorial debut. Even if not of the same standard, it makes sense that it would at least look of a similar standard. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Instead, Pfister employs Jess Hall, director of photography for Hot Fuzz to shoot a film that should gleam with a sense of techno-phobia. Hall struggles, shooting with a bland and strangely monotonous sensibility. There are moments that impress however. Slow mention is successfully employed and Depp’s lair looks as if in the depths of a Kubrick-ian nightmare.

The cast list is over-flowing with charisma and Pfister, in a blind sense of panic, relegates all those with any sense of personality to roles employed to explain the plot. The ever brilliant Cillian Murphy plays an FBI agent as if patiently awaiting a check, Kate Mara looks bemused as to what she is doing and Morgan Freeman does as Morgan Freeman does. Even Paul Bettany struggles while Rebecca Hall plays the damsel in distress for the latter half of the film.

At least Pfister stares po-face towards the action, or maybe it simply hasn’t a clue as to what is happening. The action sequences are tedious and move quickly from science fiction to the ludicrous; it’s incredibly difficult to take a film seriously in which a group of rednecks are throwing about kitchen appliances. Pfister panics in these moments, putting in explosions a la Michael Bay that feel terribly out of place.

To its credit, Transcendence is one of few idea led, quasi-intelligent science fiction films evident in modern Hollywood. It just so happens to fail not only as a piece of science fiction, but as a piece of popcorn entertainment.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Thomas Harris

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