"Transcendence" Review: Craig's First Take

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Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him.
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So there is a surprisingly strong sci-fi film that no one seems to like coming to theaters this weekend called “Transcendence”. It's been beaten to a bloody pulp on Rotten Tomatoes, called a big idea movie that’s also narratively inert. Say it ain’t so. Aren’t big ideas why we go to the movies in the first place? Or is it just to watch animated squirrels in 3-D?

Well I stand firm on cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, "Transcendence" is uniquely adult and also filled with something you don’t see much of in movies today-something to think about.

The film casts Johnny Depp as Will Caster, a scientist trying to use artificial intelligence in order to advance the brain and the planet. He’s shot within the first couple moments of the film, the victim of a fringe group called RIFT who is against any technology that could possibly develop its own God-complex. Will’s wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), gets the somewhat farfetched idea of uploading Will’s consciousness onto a hard drive, an idea that surprisingly works, although while she believes it may actually be Will, her partner Max (Paul Bettany) finds certain aspects of Tamagatchi-Will concerning and joins up with RIFT.

Will has bigger ideas though. He is soon healing the wounded and the planet through the use of nano-technology, but does he have Jesus-like intentions or is he creating an army as Morgan Freeman’s professor and Cillian Murphy’s cop would have us believe? Jack Paglen’s script deserves credit; this is a movie that questions whether one man can be trusted with unlimited power, whether that man is in fact human at all, and what’s more dangerous, his power or the people who fear that he has it? Sure, the plotting gets carried away at times (zombies? Really Paglen?) but to say it’s not trying is absurd and I’ll go one further and give the ending another high five as it favors brainy and socially conscious over big, loud, and stupid.

As for Pfister, who has been a director of photography on many of Christopher Nolan’s films, his directorial debut is a fine one. “Transcendence” suffers from a slow pacing at times but it’s beautiful, menacing, and unpredictable in its attempts to entertain and bring up interesting ideas. The cast works well here too, although Depp takes playing a machine to mostly stiff levels. But this is really a thriller that’s trying hard to follow in Nolan’s footsteps and even though it’s a little bit too silly to really get there, I liked and respected what it tries to do. “Transcendence” is a way better movie than its getting credit for.