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USA 2014
Directed by
Wally Pfister
119 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
2 stars


Synopsis: Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp), an AI researcher, is assassinated by militant luddites who believe his work will lead to the end of humanity. His wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and his best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), upload his mind into his nascent AI project. Soon the new Will is going to prove the luddites right…

I honestly can’t be bothered reviewing this film in any traditional sense. It’s stupid in a way that defies belief. Not that the ideas aren’t interesting, but it fails to explore them with any kind of intelligence.

Transcendence looks pretty and the pacing isn’t awful. There’s some good performances as well. It gets a star for both looking nice and one for the efforts of its actors, at least when they’re putting effort in though clearly some of them are just eyeing the paycheck. Nobody likes being unemployed I guess.

Ok, so that explains the two stars. Now I’m going to spoil things, so if you plan to see the film, stop reading now.

Oh dear lord, how stupid is this film?  Let me count the ways:

1.    You murdered my best friend in cold blood, let me help you. Thus, Max is kidnapped by the anti-tech terrorists. Cut to two years later he’s gone all Patty Hearst on us. Why? How? Who knows? Stupid.

2.    Is this film set in the 80s? No, but you might be forgiven for thinking it. The new AI Will is plugged into everything across the internet but somehow can’t see the impending attack on his omniscient standing.

3.    He gets famous. A video goes online showing how Will’s nanotechnology healed a man and made him superhuman. This leads to small procession of dumb hicks looking to get healed of their diseases. Where is the flood of geeks seeking access to the nerd rapture? Why isn’t his facility overrun? Where is the international reaction, the pundits talking to fill time on 24 hour news networks?

4.    After the first attack Will releases nanobots into the air and spreads them across the world. The same nanobots that occupy the bodies of the people he’s cured, which also networks them to him and turns them into his zombies when it suits him. So why isn’t everyone infected by them? Why do they just lie around? Especially when he says he’s going to elevate humanity to a new level of being. What’s the delay?

5.    The film regularly dog-whistles the audience with the point that Will in the machine may not be Will, but his AI research project PINN, just wearing his face. In the final moments of the film, it’s revealed it was him all along. Really him. Except that if it was really him why did he do all those creepy things like turn people in zombies and try and cover the world in nanotechnology? The real Will would know better than that, surely? Unless, of course, that was a reshot ending because they wanted a happy moment to pack the audience off  home with.

Director Wally Pfister is Christopher Nolan’s  long-time cinematographer so he has long been party to some impressive high-end concept films exploring issues of  identity and truth such as Inception and The Prestige. Despite that, his first outing as a director doesn’t follow through on a single idea it puts forward and collapses on itself. There are some good science fiction concepts here and hopefully someone more adept (I’m guessing that it won’t be Nolan) will have a crack at fixing this self-important mess one day.




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