Review: Transcendence undone by cliches and loopholes
Replete with loop holes, Transcendence is actually really boring, never quite offering any insight into some of the questions it raises.
The past couple of years haven't exactly been kind to Johnny Depp. The Lone Ranger was the last in a string of un-watchable films that unfortunately didn't make much money either. Transcendence could have been the film to mark his return to form, had it actually featured more of the actor himself. We have instead a digital version of Depp that flickers on and off the screen now and then, his expression cold as steel.
There is no doubt that Depp is a fine actor, having proven that consistently despite his penchant for off-beat and absurd films that often don't translate into box-office success. And yet, since his association with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, its been difficult for him to break out of the Jack Sparrow mold and deliver a powerful performance that isn't derivative or typically Depp.
In Transcendence, he plays Dr Will Castor, a hugely popular artificial intelligence scientist whose work walks the thin line between understanding and violating the workings of the universe, inspiring a neo-Luddite 'terrorist' group R.I.F.T (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) to shoot him dead.
Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) Will's wife and their friend Max (Paul Bettany) promptly upload his consciousness onto a computer, in a sense bringing him alive again. Max however, is conflicted about the "promise and perils of technology" and is shocked at how easily Evelyn gives into every demand Digital Depp seems to make. Within minutes of being uploaded, Will demands more power, energy, access to Wall Street and every other network on the planet. How could they be sure it's really Will and not simply a technological manifestation that follows its own rules?
The film marks the directorial debut of Christopher Nolan's cinematographer Wally Pfister (who also won an Oscar for his work on Inception). Though the film looks spectacular and is shot with finesse, it lacks substance and a definite voice. The ideas pertaining to this battle between man and machine have been explored endlessly in sci-fi films and television shows, and Transcendence seems to add nothing new to the genre. Compare it with the recently released Spike Jonze love story Her, and you see how the genre and its attitude, that of fear of technology, can be turned on its head, making for a truly compelling film.
At the heart of it Transcendence is about love and a couple's inability to reconcile with death and separation. This angle too suffers greatly as a result of bewilderingly unromantic and cold performances by the lead pair. It really doesn't seem like the two even like each other very much, let alone go to great lengths to resurrect the other. We spend way too much time negotiating the complexities of a plot that's actually quite cliche and watch poor Evelyn drive herself crazy wondering whether the man in the computer is really her Will.
Replete with loop holes, Transcendence is actually really boring, never quite offering any insight into some of the questions it raises. Clearly, Depp will need to pull out the big guns if he wants to transcend delivering more duds like this one.
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