TRANSCENDENCE | THE REVIEW

TRANSCENDENCE, the huge blockbuster with a mega budget starring a huge cast, is, apparently, just a piece of crap. Everywhere I read about it it just gets slammed. Currently sitting on 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, Kernel Andrew would not be swayed, he was determined to give it a chance and view it with an open mind. See what he thinks below. TRANSCENDENCE is out now, it is pissing down with rain, you could go and see it today 🙂 It is rated M and runs for 119mins.

 

TRANSCENDENCE IMAGE| THE JOHNNY DEPP MOVIE POSTER
TRANSCENDENCE | THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW | THE JOHNNY DEPP MOVIE POSTER

 

REVIEW BY ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

“Transcendence” a movie is a movie from brilliant cinematographer Wally Pfister. The man who gave us the simply incredible beginning to Nolan’s Dark Knight. In fact Christopher Nolan as well as Emma Thompson are the executive producers on this particular venture (read the people with the name and clout to get this green lit).

The movie itself has a very intriguing premise. Depp (does he need his first name spelt out?) plays world famous technology guru, Will Caster, who is the leading mind in the field of Artificial Intelligence. He and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall – Iron Man 3, The Town) have been trying for the better part of their academic lives to create a machine capable of thought (sentience if you will). We learn that Caster is somewhat of a rock star. He has “groupies,” as Max their long term collaborator (Paul Bettany), remarks in the opening act. We meet him just as Caster is making a presentation for academia and investors alike at Berkley College where he conducts his research. The topic is of course the path to sentience for machines.

I won’t try to give away too much but Caster is wounded after giving his presentation. In a series of coordinated attacks in which various researchers all connected with the field of AI are targeted and assassinated, Caster is shot in a suicide attack. Caster recovers from the attack but we quickly learn that he was hit with a radiation laced bullet. This will kill him; there is no treatment that can save him medically. I have to say I was enjoying the film to this point. I thought that the film’s script by Jack Paglen setup the characters quite nicely and gave me a sense of Caster, his friends, his world and the typical first act problem that we must overcome. I love me some science fiction, not the run, jump, explode kind that passes for Sci-Fi these days but proper intellectual sci-fi, I was intrigued. Perhaps what I had heard about this movie was wrong? I tend to make up my own mind so I was pleasantly surprised.

 

TRANSCENDENCE IMAGE | JOHNNY DEPP THE FUTURE
TRANSCENDENCE | THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW | JOHNNY DEPP THE FUTURE

 

Anyway Will and Evelyn become desperate to save their friend and lover respectively. Max has reservations but Evelyn is willing to try anything. In fact we learn that Will, Max and Evelyn all used to be students of Joseph (Morgan Freeman) who has been working along with this group on an AI called PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network). This machine has already successfully uploaded the “consciousness” of a monkey into itself. Could the same thing work for Max?

We know where this is going. Evelyn and Max, raid the PINN research laboratory and construct their own virtual machine, so to speak, and being the process of uploading Will. He is convinced, pretty quickly I must add, and these moral conundrums are argued away pretty quickly in a couple of sentences. I don’t want to give away too much but just as the upload sequence is completed Will’s physical form expires. We quickly learn that he has successfully been uploaded into the machine. Or has he? All we know is there is something in the machine that thinks it’s Will. Evelyn believes this is her husband. But Max is not so sure. Especially when the first thing that Max asks for is access to more power in the form of you guessed it, an internet connection!

Ok the first act is intriguing but then the wheels really fall off. The movie breaks down for me with a thousand convoluted plots coming and going at the same time. We are reintroduced to the neo-luddite techno terrorist organisation when they kidnap Max and demand that they tell him the whereabouts of the newly uploaded Max. There is a small bit part for Kate Mara as Bree, their leader,  but she is not seen enough for us to invest any interest in her. Max, after being beaten and threatened, reveals the location of Max. But it is too little too late as Evelyn has already granted Max access to a satellite uplink. This was my first laugh out loud moment. Max is an all-powerful computer but needs Evelyn to give him satellite drivers so he can access the satellite uplink. Wouldn’t he just be able to code this himself? After all how is he processing thoughts without being able to internalise and construct code….anyway I digress, my Masters in Info Tech is taking over.

 

 

TRANSCENDENCE IMAGE OF MURPHY AND FREEMAN
TRANSCENDENCE | THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW | AGENT BUCHANAN (CILLIAN MURPHY) & JOSEPH TAGGER (MORGAN FREEMAN)

 

The next plot thrown out revolves the FBI in the form of Anderson (Cillian Murphy) who has been hot on the heels of the terrorists but whose attention now shifts to Max. Murphy, a very gifted actor, is completely underutilised in this role and rather than fleshing out a subplot this distracts rather than enhances what the movie is trying to say. There are a few throwaway scenes of Anderson arresting those responsible for perpetrating the attacks. Apparently Max gives them the location but all this does is spawn one or two sentences on an AI giving us locations. What?

Focussing  back on the main plot. Will asks Evelyn to move him to a desert town called Brightwood where he constructs a research facility from stolen funds (garnered from the Internet). Will grows in power but is this really Will? Time shifts forward by two years (Two years? Hasn’t anyone been curious as to what happened with the AI break in of the FBI etc? Apparently not) Once Will asserts his dominance on the facility he then begins to “help” the town folk by curing them of their diseases using nanotechnology but also “networking” them at the same time. My question here then becomes how does the government not know about this? They know where Evelyn is, they know she is building a research facility, wouldn’t they link the two plot threads together. Also back to the terrorists why haven’t they acted? Anyway apparently Anderson is aware, he was made aware of the power that Will now possesses but there is no call to the President, The United Nations, Batman (after all Nolan is on board isn’t he?). Instead apparently the military budget is so small he gets a small team of men to assist him combat this growing threat. So low are the government’s resources that they have to rely on the terrorists for assistance who seem to be better armed.

 

TRANSCENDENCE IMAGE EVELYN CASTER (REBECCA HALL)
TRANSCENDENCE | THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW | EVELYN CASTER (REBECCA HALL)

 

Yes at some point the terrorists also turn into good guys. After being beaten and tortured by them the next time we go back to Max and the group he has become buddy buddy with Bree and the luddites. Is this Stockholm syndrome at work? Who knows? But suddenly the FBI and the group are working side by side. Forget that they were at some stage a group of murderers which apparently they are not pursuing anymore (besides arresting a couple initially). There will be a showdown, we know it between an all-powerful AI and this rag tag group.

If only “Transcendence” could get a handle on what type of movie it wants to be. There are some fantastic ideas here. Some beautiful uses of CGI but often the movie is simply ambiguous or throws so many plots out there that it becomes quite hard to follow. It’s muddled and wishy washy and the final act becomes quite laughable. In fact many laughed out loud in the review screening I was at. Go see it for yourself if you dare. Perhaps on a rainy day when there is nothing on.

The worst thing about TRANSCENDENCE, we have a fantastic gifted cast, we have an interesting premise and we obviously have a budget to realise it. How then can it go so badly? The director, and perhaps script writer, have no true sense of what this movie is really about and that is a shame.

 

1 and a Half Pops