Although slow-moving and confusing at times, Transcendence impressed me as a haunting, thought-provoking film. Because I’m a Johnny Depp fan, it’s important to mention that his performance in this sci-fi offering may not be among his best, but it’s still highly watchable. Depp portrays one of the world’s most respected Artificial Intelligence researchers who ends up with incredible powers that pose questions about the limits of technology. Contributing to the film’s quality are a fine supporting cast, memorable background music, imposing cinematography and distinctive editing befitting this provocative story. First-time director Wally Pfister moves things along with a pace requiring patience from viewers – similar to Hitchcock’s Vertigo – and I found that a refreshing change from many recent sci-fi flicks. Plus, first-time feature screenwriter Jack Paglen provided a challenging script to work from.
Dr. Will Caster (Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) seem like the perfect couple. They are very much in love and work together on cutting-edge A. I. research of interest to them both. Their best friend Max (Paul Bettany), also a research scientist, admires their dedication to science and to each other. And so does Joseph (Morgan Freeman), another friend and colleague. But members of an anti-technology group have very different ideas about Will’s work, and they engage in terrorist tactics to destroy it. However, their actions result in Will becoming even more powerful -- so powerful it even makes Evelyn, Max and Joseph worried about what he’s up to. And, of course, the FBI has to get involved.
I admire the way Transcendence keeps the mystery about Will going to the very end. Is what he’s accomplishing good or evil? Just because he CAN do something, SHOULD he do it? Is he aiming for perfection or for ultimate power over everything? Will humanity be better or worse as a result of his actions?
The love story between Will and Evelyn plays second fiddle to the sci-fi theme here, but it still comes across as quite touching. Depp and Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona) project a unique chemistry as a couple – sort of like a calm breeze before the storm. Bettany (Blood) and Freeman (Last Vegas) are convincing, as always. Also worth mentioning is Kate Mara (Shooter), who makes us believe her concern as a frightening anti-tech terrorist.
Mychael Danna’s (Life of Pi) score adds to the film’s haunting tone; Jess Hall’s (Hot Fuzz) cinematography includes surprising images of beauty and computer magic as well as violence; and David Rosenbloom’s (Dreamer) editing avoids the slice-and-dice technique as much as possible.
Despite all this, Transcendence is not for everyone, especially viewers who want fast-paced action in every sequence or easy answers to philosophical dilemmas.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.)
For more information about Transcendence, go the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.