Transcendence - DVD Review

'By the time Transcendence reaches its climax, it's unlikely you'll be completely clear on either what exactly is going on or why you should care'.

The considerable critical pounding that Transcendence has received since its cinema release earlier this year initially at least seems unfounded, based upon what the film's opening act has to offer. The premise of the story - that of transferring human consciousness to a sophisticated AI computer - is established aptly, as is the conflicted near-future world in which the narrative takes place. Johnny Depp as central figure Dr. Will Caster, whilst not on top form, ensures the character is at least someone whom we understand, even if we're never given a solid reason to care about. Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany support adequately, albeit not entirely memorably, as Will's wife Evelyn and best friend Max respectively. It's a solid if unremarkable opening half an hour; whilst it might not grip you entirely, what's delivered is certainly a believable beginning and sets Wally Pfister's film up with a sound base upon which the director can build.

Sadly, the remaining three quarters of Jack Paglen's script are largely an unengaging mess. Once Will becomes plugged into his own futuristic computer system at the start of the second act, any believability that has been generated essentially goes out of the window. Evelyn undergoes what feels like a near-total personality transplant within the space of a few scenes, with Max also making some decisions that seem drastically out of character from what we've seen so far. Hall's performance becomes artificial and Bettany is largely sidelined; amongst the additional supporting players, Cillian Murphy is completely wasted and Morgan Freeman adds yet another forgettable, uninspired turn to what is now becoming an alarmingly long list for the once reliable veteran. As for Depp, it would be easy to say that his robotic acting from this point onwards is thanks to his character becoming part of a computer system, but that would simply be making excuses for what is arguably the most flat and underwhelming turn from the actor seen in several years.

In terms of plot development, Transcendence's middle section seems to take an age to do very little. After a few questionable leaps of narrative logic, the story becomes stuck in one location showing us the same thing for far too long, turning Pfister's flm into a drawn-out dirge lacking in focus and vitality. By the time Transcendence reaches its climax, it's unlikely you'll be completely clear on either what exactly is going on or why you should care. With ideas similar to those explored in the likes of Lucy (which is somewhat better) and Her (considerably better) earlier this year, at its core Transcendence feels like it held the potential to become an entertaining and intelligent take on what possibilities the technology of the future may hold. In the end, this has far too many severe problems to make it worth recommending even for the most ardent sci-fi fan.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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