Despite having enjoyed Transcendence it should be pointed out that in terms of plot, it seems that first time writer/actor Jack Paglen put in everything he could think of including the kitchen sink. Depending on what sort of filmfan you are, this could be a bad thing. However, it should also be pointed out that the underlying theme of the film was man allowing his hubris to make him feel like God. Of course that was not the only underlying theme. Other themes included love and sacrifice, man’s inherent distrust of anything new, the dangers of messing with real artificial intelligence (AI), and why man should not attempt to change the “real” God’s model designed in His own image.
The film’s cast contains some heavy hitters. Morgan Freeman still manages to stand out regardless of what part he plays, Rebecca Hall continues to prove that she’s got acting chops to spare. Paul Bettany takes that touch of class he gives Jarvis from the Marvel verse and loses it to become a sort of “everyman” hero who takes up the mantle of rescuer. Other actors in the film include Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser and, of course Johnny Depp. In terms of performance there can be no complaints about any of the main players. Most of whom have worked with executive producer Christopher Nolan. Even Nolan regular Lukas Haas has a cameo in Transcendence as the anti-tech member who shoots Depp’s character and then ends his own life with the same gun.
It should be noted that this is the first “serious” role that Depp has done for some time. After being trapped in a cycle of playing eccentric characters with a comic edge, as well as being caught up in an eternal partnership with Tim Burton it was nice to see him deviate from the “odd” roles he’s been taking on. It may be that the 50 year-old actor recognised that the rough treatment he got for playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger, was a signal to move out of his “comedic” phase.
The film’s plot, which does seem to have so many references to other science fiction films that it does seem to include the veritable kitchen sink, does run the gamut of film connections. Perhaps the film tries too hard to be all things to all science fiction fans. The first thing that comes into mind watching the “birth” of the AI that begins to modify everything and soon makes it own army of genetically improved people is that this portion of the film feels like the beginning of the verse of Matrix. Granted the very beginning of the world, years before Neo or Agent Smith come into being, but it does feel like an almost direct connection.
Matrix beginnings aside, the film consists of two factions who battle one another throughout the movie. The two camps in the film consist of, firstly, Will Caster and his supporters. He is the scientific genius behind PINN, the artificial intelligence that he has been developing. While he is giving a presentation to a group of potential financial backers Caster is shot and mortally wounded by the opposing group which was started by a former assistant of Will’s, Bree.
The former assistant believes that what Caster is trying to do is wrong. Her faith in the project wavered when he uploaded part of a monkey’s brain into the computer to progress his AI work. After being shot by a bullet that has been “doctored” with radiation, Will begins to die. Evelyn, his wife begins to upload Will’s brain into PINN in a race to use her husband’s mind to develop the AI and to keep him “alive.” Bree and her supporters try to stop Evelyn but they’re too late. Ironically, Evelyn and Max almost miss the moment when Will, becomes PINN/Will.
Two members of Northstar, a rap group Johnson has collaborated with, told TMZ the rapper cut off his penis without warning before jumping off the balcony.
The musicians, who live in the same building as Johnson, said he had not been taking any drugs that would cause him to commit such an extreme act. The two men said they rushed downstairs, where they found Johnson screaming beside the road.
Director Wally Pfister, the director of photography for a number of Christopher Nolan films, does a brilliant job helming his first film. Certainly, the movie looks beautiful and Pfister does an excellent job of putting all the various threads together of this mishmash of science fiction themes that have been included in the movie. In terms of story, if the viewer pays attention closely to Depp’s talk at the beginning of the film, and the opening sequence between him and his wife Evelyn it feels like the film’s action is pretty much predicted by Will Caster.
Ultimately, the film feels like one of those 1950 sci-fi movies where the theme is “there are things man was never meant to know/do.” However, in a surprising twist, the group that declares war on AI Will and Evelyn, along with all their improved people, discover too late the changes being made were not harming anything. In fact, all the power gleaned by AI Will/PINN went towards helping the planet. The underlying theme of man attempting to become God, comes to fruition just before the film’s end when AI Will/PINN recreates the late Will in human form to comfort Evelyn.
It is a clear allusion to “God creating man in His own image” and one that also proves Will’s point at the beginning of the film; that man creates God in his own image. Themes, plot, acting, subplots and even pacing take the back seat to the computer generated world created in this film. The effects are almost breathtaking and go a long way toward making the whole film that bit more believable.
In some ways, Transcendence seems like a updating of that old 1950s favorite Donovan’s Brain, but that could be just another of the science fiction plots popped into this kitchen sink film. Sadly, it seems that most critics have panned the film and missed its beauty and the film’s somewhat garbled message. It does feel though that everyone was trying that little bit too hard and the end result is that the movie, with all its questions raised about the morality of going too far with science and technology, is lost to the audience, or at least the critics. Transcendence opens on April 18 in theaters nationwide.
By Michael Smith
Rock Regal Rock Stadium 16