We can all agree if zombies or aliens don’t kill us, it will likely be our ever evolving technological lust that will do us in at the end. Transcendence may sound like a typical, pre-apocalypse film, but it is actually an enlightened concept that is dragged down by its heavily uninspired and dull approach and under-utilized star cast.
Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a researcher trying to create a sentient, self-aware A.I. with the help of his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their colleagues Max (Paul Bettany) and Joseph (Morgan Freeman). Their research is halted when a terrorist organization called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), and headed by Bree (Kate Mara), destroys several labs and the researchers in them to prevent them from creating artificial life. Will gets shot in an assassination attempt that leaves him with radiation poisoning and a few weeks to live. Evelyn and Max have other plans, taking the brain scanning technology the previously murdered professors were working on and combining it with Will’s A.I. research to create a sentient artificial intelligence entity that is based on the organic mind of Will. They succeed, and Will’s intelligence increases exponentially and sets up a base underground in a small town where he believes he can do the most good.
Along with innovations that revolutionize every field of medicine and science, A.I. Will creates nanites that heal the human body, but also connect every mind healed with nanites together into an autonomous hive mind. Think of it as a sort of mental Facebook, but where you get every message and comment telepathically. Instant messaging that is really instantaneous, but with the side effect that A.I. Will can control any person at any time. This is where the problem exists, at least to outsiders and the radical RIFT, and they will stop at nothing to stop what they fear and don’t understand.
Transcendence has one of the best and original sci-fi concepts I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it have a completely self-aware A.I., but it also makes the humans into the bad guys. It shows how easily the scientific community (and obviously the US government) become the fear-mongering people they are always fighting against. At the core of it, there is love story between a man and a woman (later a male A.I. and a woman), and the strength of their devotion to each other. Way more subtle than Her, but at least in this one, the A.I. remains monogamous. This film brought up a great many talking points about the nature of technology, what components make up a human being, and the nature of a god and humans, but you have to sit through the film, which might prove a harder task than answering of the above questions.
The film starts of with the promise of technological adventure and terrorist angst, but then it becomes a progression of slowly and scientifically calculated moves without much gusto. Although the cinematography shows glimpses of passion, the film’s clunky, tedious narrative extinguishes any sort of life (man or machine) that the film has built up. The cast doesn’t help with their resigned and cliched performances, especially Depp, who was already acting like he was mechanical even before his consciousness was put into a super-computer. Every actor is capable of so much more, but they could only do so much with what they were given.
This cautionary tale about man’s limitless possibilities being sabotaged by man’s self-destructive nature resonates so well in the film that it can be applied to the conception of the film itself. Transcendence provides a great new concept and view on the whole implicit battle of man versus machine, but is drowned out by humdrum the story progresses, and Johnny Depp’s lack of over-the-top character.
RATING: ★★★★(4/10 stars)
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