Creepy Ghost in the Machine - 'Transcendence' Movie Review

Updated on January 9, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

In Transcendence, Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, an AI scientific genius who is developing the first sentient computer that will obviously change the paradigm of social and labor relations.

Technophobia arrives quickly, embodied in the form of a terrorist group called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) led by Kate "look-at-me-I-am-intense-and-weird-sexy" Mara. RIFT end up assassinating Caster with a poisoned bullet (yes, Caster doesn't die from the gunshot, but from the fact that the bullet was polonium-laced). Thanks to his own work and the efforts of his best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) and his wife Evelyn (Rebeca Hall), Will's conscience is uploaded to the project's quantum computer.

Will, in his (its?) virtual ("real" but inside a computer?) form, initiates the creation of a technological utopia in an abandoned desert town, where thanks to nanotechnology (the old reliable sci-fi excuse for anything) Will manages to make incredible breakthroughs in energy, medicine, and biology, among others.

But, of course, the Will-in-the-Machine vision has a creepy side. The people who have undergone surgery under Will's utopia, now have implanted nanoparticles, transforming them into remotely mind controlled individuals. Will is creating an army and is capable to download his entire personality in each and every one of them.

Yes, it's a hardcore sci-fi premise that in the right hands should have been a great success. Sadly, this wasn't the case.

It should not be surprising to anyone that Transcendence was a resounding, badly reviewed failure at the box office. We are talking about a movie whose huge star power lead actor Johnny Depp is confined 85% of the time to a lifeless picture on a screen monitor.

We're talking about a movie that wants the viewer to have three different stance changes towards the protagonist: At the beginning, you are supposed to support him and empathize with him. Halfway, you have to be afraid and perceive him as a crazy, HAL-9000-like creepy villain. And in the end, you are supposed to empathize again with him and see him as a wonderfully romantic, full of humanity. All this, again, with the protagonist confined to an image on a computer screen. The failure is evident.

We're talking about a movie in which the same thing happens with the villains (?). At first, you have to antagonize them, then magically empathize with them and then react against their actions.

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We're talking about a film in which--after an hour and a half--a decontextualized, high octane action sequence takes place, in which Paul Bettany's character, until that moment known as a pacifist scientific nerd, leads the explosive assault (weapons and everything) with an outta nowhere action hero attitude.

We're talking about a movie in which basically the whole suspension of disbelief is never achieved and the sci elements look like "crazy magic science", thus eliminating the narrative spine.

But in the monumental failure of Transcendence, we must respect its ambition within the genre. The tension generated in trying to recognize if the Will-in-the-machine is really the uploaded human or an artificial emulation gives way to an interesting debate about our perception of reality.

There's no doubt. Transcendence is a casualty in this sci-fi cultural war. But its death will not be in vain. It's almost a lock, the fact that Transcendence will be the inspiration and a reference to better future films.

Movie Details

Title: Transcendence

Release Year: 2014

Director(s): Wally Pfister

Actors: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany a.o.

2 stars for Transcendence

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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