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Review: Transcendence

by C. Eden

Transcendence-Johnny-Depp-posterWith a cast consisting of (The!) Johnny Depp and (The!) Morgan Freeman, one can be forgiven in thinking that this 100 million dollar production would take over the hearts and minds of sci-fi buffs from around the world. Unfortunately, it falls very short of the mark and is more a jumbled mess that was maybe once a good idea but poorly executed. Transcendence promises a lot but delivers very little.

Professor Will Caster (Depp) is at the forefront of discovering more about the brain. He lectures rooms full of cash donors and colleagues telling them that with his ideas he is planning to eventually cure cancer and Alzheimer’s. Suddenly the room is interrupted by a question coming from a young man (from a resistance group called RIFT) asking if Caster is trying to create a God. Caster laughs it off and talks about Neural Ethics.

Having set up the gist, one would think the film would be an action-packed fight between two factions with sci-fi elements but after Caster is shot (and given a terminal sentence,) the movie falls apart soon after and lacks direction – despite the idea to turn him into a conscious and self-aware computer.

The film moves very quickly, touching on complicated subjects but never really explaining them to the uninitiated. The real life theory of Biocentrism is the whole point of the film for example, but the creators are content not to let the audience in on much else but action, ignoring every opportunity to explain even the littlest bit of anything complicated with several key reasons behind some important scenes glossed over or not even mentioned. There are also a spate of thirty second scenes with no real point, attempting to join bigger ones together; footage that looked like they should have been cut.

The AI supercomputer Caster becomes mad with his power, unable to stop his ideas and plans, even to the point of isolating the one person who has strived to help him; his wife, equally as tenacious Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). He suddenly modifies humans and the movie takes a twist into hints at other sci-fi ideas like trans-humanism, regeneration, nanotechnology and superhuman strength.  This makes the group RIFT, the ones responsible for trying to take down his empire, move to strike – after having recruited Caster’s old friend Max (Paul Bettany) during the movie, before the “two years later” flashed on the screen.

The movie seemingly borrows from classics such as Terminator 2 – think T1000 psychotically running after the good guys in their car or even Homer Simpson running after the Flanders’ car when they don’t take him on their trip. It also uses the idea of appliances in the home all being run by one suave sounding guy (Again, Simpsons.)Throw in a shoddy version of a borrowed scene from the classic Armageddon where Liv Tyler touches the TV screen showing her husband and this movie has the power to make you groan in frustration.

Paul Bettany is a rare standout in this film, along with the short scenes featuring RIFT leader, Bree (Kate Mara) who although did not get to develop her character much at all, put in an interesting performance. Morgan Freeman captured every scene effortlessly, but was given silly lines and left the audience realising that he was just another actor playing in what looked to be a rushed attempt at telling a story.

Transcendence doesn’t deliver what it could. It is a shame, as the star line up would suggest it could make any film seem good but it just doesn’t happen.  Even if you are simply there for the action or eye candy – the action doesn’t cut it and neither does the fact that Johnny Depp doesn’t take his shirt off or even appear in the movie past the first few scenes, save for his talking residual-image head. The themes in the film are covered by twists and turns that are predictable and very rushed to the backdrop of sterile environments. Transcendence has potential but literally loses the plot and spends the rest of the film clumsily trying to regain something it never had. See it, but see it with a group of friends who can keep you entertained in the silly parts and there are a fair few.

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