Movie Review: ‘Transcendence’

Jarrett Quick

My biggest issue with “Transcendence” is how close it gets to being really good without actually achieving that. It’s by no means a bad film, but “Transcendence” does little to rise above the scattered techno-nonsense and countless leaps of logic that holds the film back.


In the film, Dr. Will Caster [Johnny Depp], an artificial intelligence researcher known for his controversial research, is shot by an assassin working for a terrorist organization bent on stopping what they see as the dangers of artificial intelligence and the marriage of man and machine. He initially survives the attack but soon discovers the bullet has poisoned him, giving him only weeks to live.


Unwilling to let Will die, his wife and scientific partner Evelyn Caster [Rebecca Hall] and his closest friend Max [Paul Bettany] use newly discovered neural research to transplant Dr. Caster’s mind from his dying body into a computer system, blurring the line between where the old Will Caster stops and the artificial intelligence begins.


I am normally a fan of Johnny Depp, but for the most part he was not very good in “Transcendence.” Even before his conversion into a digital being, the chemistry between his on-screen wife Rebecca Hall felt hollow.


They do have some excellent scenes near the end of the film, but it felt like it took longer than it should to get to that point, even if their relationship is strained by a husband turned into a computer. Paul Bettany did a great job as the cautious one of the trio, and he portrays his character’s struggle between the realities of Caster’s power against the history between the two in a natural way.


If there’s one element “Transcendence” did very well, it was cinematography. The film has a lot of long, expansive shots of the desert and Dr. Caster’s lab that give the film a feeling of loneliness. As Dr. Caster becomes more powerful, his intentions are less and less clear to his wife, and the rift between the two is reflected in director  Wally Pfister’s well done cinematography. Pfister was the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, and although “Transcendence” is no “Dark Knight,” it still looks impressive.


Overall, “Transcendence” is a flawed film, but still deserving of a watch. I liked how it explored the theme of man’s relationship with technology, but I would have appreciated more depth in their exploration of the theme rather than getting caught up in interpersonal relationships. I also wish the film explained more of the technological side of things without resorting to nonsense or completely ignoring how they came to be.