Director: Wally Pfister
Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman
Screenplay: Jack Paglan
119 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.
When longtime visual perfectionist Wally Pfister decided to make his directorial debut on a project produced by colleague and master filmmaker Christopher Nolan, I think I wet my pants in excitement. And why not? The film, Transcendence, seemed all too perfect to fail. The screenplay was part of a shortlist of amazing unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. The director had proven himself visually. It had an all-star cast at the front lines of major players in the business. It couldn’t fail, right? Then, reviews started coming in. The film immediately dropped down to “rotten” on the famous tomatometer, and I started to get concerned. Finally, my chance to see the film came, and I knew I had to form an opinion all my own.
I saw it. Oh, I saw it.
Transcendence is the story of the Casters, Will (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Tusk) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, Iron Man 3). Will is dying, and Evelyn will do anything to save him. So when Will comes up with a controversial theory concerning crossing his living mind with a technological super-computer in order to leave his withering body of flesh to exist amongst cyberspace. Longtime friend Max (Paul Bettany, A Beautiful Mind, The Avengers) helps the Casters achieve their goal only to second-guess his decision when Will’s mind wants more input. As Will’s consciousness continues to expand into new avenues of human psyche, a more horrifying truth comes to light for Evelyn: is this thing still her husband anymore, and if not, what has it become?
I want to like this movie so much. I really do. It has fine performances and the dialogue isn’t bad. The real issue of the movie is the pacing. After the first third of Transcendence, it slows the hell down. Seriously. There is a whole middle of this movie that has stuff going on but doesn’t feel important, which leads to an underwhelming ending trying to be deeper than it is. There are issues.
After Will’s consciousness begins learning and becoming something greater than itself, we see him experimenting with humans to progress both humans and itself, but I didn’t feel the stakes. I knew they were there, but I just didn’t find myself caring about them, which disappointed me. Maybe if the film pulled me in more, I would have found myself rooting for a solution, but Evelyn Caster doesn’t take up the lead as far as cathartic characters go. I wanted her to figure out what we had all figured out, but it took too long. On the other hand, Max has entrenched himself with known terrorists to try exposing this experiment to the public, so he wasn’t as likable either. Then you get Cillian Murphy (TV’s Peaky Blinders, Inception) and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolphin Tale 2), who play Agent Buchanan and Joseph Tagger. Seriously, who the hell are these guys and why do I care about them. They bare no weight whatsoever on the plot or anything going on. They merely observe. They just exist. Why? Exactly. These roles seemed more like a favor to Pfister than anything else. Yeah, I liked The Dark Knight trilogy too, but I wouldn’t take an easily worthless character to show my affection.
Then, there is the ending. It tries to be the ending to Inception or perhaps The Dark Knight Rises. It tries to compel its viewership into discussing exactly what happened. The problem here is that it feels so forced. It feels shoehorned when it could’ve been a simple explanation of what Max thinks happened without trying to imply anything. Just let us have the info that we have attained and let us use that for watercooler talk. Instead, the film leaves a dry taste on the tongue that leads to simply nothingness.
I want to love this movie. There are so many parts of it that I do love. Many of the actors turn in fine work, and I didn’t have any issues with the visual presentation of the film, but I think good ol’ Wally needs to learn about pacing.
-Kyle A. Goethe
What did you think of Wally Pfister’s Transcendence? Did you login or shut down? Let me know!