In most horror movies, the victims can be forgiven for their lack of sense.
Its within the realm of possibility that a hormone-charged slightly dense 17-year-old might open the wrong door, utter the forbidden words or ignore the obvious warnings to get off the mountain.
In Transcendence, the obtuse adults opening the wrong door are some of the worlds greatest scientific minds.
Real scientists are probably going to hate this film. It suggests they are oblivious narcissists who dive headlong into potential catastrophe with no safeguards, and little consideration of the morals or consequences. And then, when catastrophe is surrounding them, they make a nice chicken piccata, sip wine and argue about their feelings.
The directorial debut for ace cinematographer Wally Pfister is very watchable, but the narrative flaws and logical leaps sabotage sustained enjoyment. Transcendence looks and sounds like a Christopher Nolan film that got attacked by malware.
One huge positive for Transcendence: Its never boring. The film has that fascinating vibe that happens when very talented people with a large amount of resources are making something unique. Nolan is the executive producer, and Pfisters movie has that Inception/Memento feel, where audiences fell as if theyre on a ride that could take them anywhere. This ride just isnt quite as much fun.
Johnny Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a Berkeley-based artificial-intelligence scientist whose partners have figured out how to upload a primates consciousness onto a computer. Caster and his wife/scientific partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) have also been working on a sentient machine, which would never be made by anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey or WarGames.
When revolutionaries seriously wound Caster, Evelyn and colleague Max (Paul Bettany) hole up in an abandoned gymnasium and perform surgery, hoping to upload Casters consciousness before he dies.
Story problem #1: Well assume its even remotely possible that this Berkeley gym wouldnt already be inhabited by 47 squatters. And well assume it still somehow has the working electricity to power a bank of supercomputers. Are we supposed to believe that a pair of academics would be capable of performing an on-the-fly intracranial neurosurgery procedure?
From there, Transcendence presents itself as a smart movie, while it bombards the viewer with confusing plot turns, huge lapses in logic, protagonists who act against their own interest and smart characters who are slow to realize the obvious. For every really good story idea, there are two logical problems that will make you shake your head.
Story problem #2: The government, which would have 20 agents assigned to follow Casters every move in the real world, appears to assign one mid-level investigator to the case after a terrorism-related tragedy. The revolutionaries are gaining strength? The same investigator is in charge. The fate of mankind hangs in the balance? OK, well let the single FBI agent order around a dozen soldiers, too. But dont wake up the president
So now you have the bad news. While it fails as an airtight sci-fi thriller, Transcendence is still a decent Twilight Zone episode. The off-putting moments are reminiscent of the science-experiment-gone-wrong themes in the underrated Splice, or a good David Cronenberg creep-out.
The problems seem to rest more with the edits than with the work of Transcendence screenwriter Jack Paglen, whose detail-oriented script yields some fun surprises.
And Depp embraces the many complications of being a warped version of humanity, pulling off subtle emotional changes along with one or two bizarro turns.
A Depp critic might complain that hes been uploading all of his performances since 1997. But you wouldnt want anyone else in this role. (OK, maybe Nicolas Cage )
Cinema is a better place when filmmakers like Pfister and Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron and Neil Blomkamp can explore new ideas and original scripts, instead of squeezing out the 47th Spider-Man reboot for Disney. Even when the finished product is messy, moviegoers have to be happy that a studio gave someone the chance.
One more note for Bay Area insiders: While it appears that much of the film was shot outside the Bay Area, Transcendence does have the best use of San Pablo Avenue in a film since Pixars The Incredibles. The Broadway of the East Bay is immortalized once again