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'Transcendence' review: Rental release a second chance for Pfister sci-fi

Johnny Depp at the premiere of "Transcendence."
Johnny Depp at the premiere of "Transcendence."
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Transcendence (movie)


First time writer Jack Paglen and cinematographer-turned-first-time-director Wally Pfister bit off more than they can chew with “Transcendence;” the plot travels everywhere as the sci-fi movie attempts a timely social commentary. Hopefully better on a second viewing with its DVD and blu-ray release on Jul. 22, 2014, “Transcendence” initiates conversation and lingering thought better than it entertains.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are prominent scientists, mainly in artificial intelligence, aiming to progress technology in unimaginable ways. When a terrorist group attacks multiple locations at the same time, Will is shot with a toxic bullet. As he nears death, Evelyn and a friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), aid Will in loading his mind into a computer, basically. Max has doubts, but Evelyn is desperate to save Will in some form. As Will’s A.I. becomes more and more powerful, people either follow him like sheep or fear him.

From a random worker at the Casters’ base (portrayed by Clifton Collins, Jr.) and a military leader (Cole Hauser) to members of the terrorist group (Kate Mara, Lukas Haas) and an investigative agent (Cillian Murphy), “Transcendence” loads too many characters with no personality together, only there to drive the plot forward. It’s a messy script with an over-emphasized love story that needs some fine-tuning.

Despite its failings, “Transcendence” is one of the most thought-provoking, though heavy-handed, films of the year. It argues that people worship technology with good intentions without facing the consequences or looking ahead. Will’s transcendence from human into computer program is a kind of miracle, but he manipulates and uses his followers, turning them into his sheep. And the one that recognizes that this technology has become a new religion is, of course, a Christian.

Though it probably deserves a second watch for its discussion of morality, ethics, and fear and questions the fate of the human race with its dependence on technology, “Transcendence” is forgettable.

Rating for “Transcendence:” C-

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.