Director: Wally Pfister
Writer: Jack Paglen
Producers: Kate Cohen, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Annie Marter, Marisa Polvino, Aaron Ryder, David Valdes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Morgan Freeman, Clifton Collins Jr., Lukas Haas
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 119 min.
It’s an irony lost on Transcendence, regular Christopher Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, that in the middle of its concept/concern regarding technology becoming a wasted youth’s evolutionary turning point is a man who once played Darwin in a movie time forgot, and an actor synonymous with the voice of God. For all its ludicrous interpretation of humanity’s failure to disconnect, Pfister’s film is never less than admirable in its romantic ambitions. But it’s a thriller on shakily conventional ground, too lead-footed for its contrarian subtext to register as a purposeful tale of caution yet too uneventful and convoluted to echo its cyber proceedings and act as a frivolous form of escape.
Johnny Depp returns to the screen in his first credibly somber, non-Tim Burton affiliated role since 2011′s The Rum Diary as Dr. Will Caster, a researcher in artificial intelligence esteemed for creating a sentient machine which runs on collective hyperspace data. Extremists joined with the R.I.F.T. Unit against technology (headed by a bleached-blonde Kate Mara, used to no avail) in an attempt to assassinate Dr. Caster rather only wound him, though giving him a month left to live after discovering the bullet was laced with radiation. Will along with wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany) decide to upload Will’s withering consciousness into his grand, ominous computer system, only to see him grow sicker with obsession to conjoin all forms of life with his megalomaniac grid.
I don’t know if I’d phrase Transcendence as a blockbuster clunker as I would a sizeable disappointment in the vein of George Clooney’s recent “The Monuments Men”: a tedious faux pas, but a noble effort. Pfister keeps the movie going with enough visual impressiveness to cover up whatever overly broad strokes there are in first-timer Jack Paglen’s script, and he did good in bearing a deal of the account’s emotional weight on the pretty, expressive shoulders of the always excellent Hall. As for the rest of the cast, Depp mumbles; Morgan Freeman, as a kind, bewildered colleague, phones it in; and Bettany, like Anthony Hopkins, remains cinematic poison.
Pfister’s enterprise is a jumbled swing at marrying a modern-day dystopian epic with the intimacies of a love story — but instead of dream-like, it stagnates. Melodrama in movies is hard to do; impassioned transcendence is even tougher. Because if it doesn’t catch fire, you’re screwed. “Transcendence” is never miserable, and its flaws are worth applauding for the film’s sheer thematic appetite alone; I just wish its forward-thinking existential meditations didn’t so blankly follow the threadbare sci-fi beaten path.