Transcendence – Competent but dull

transcendenceTRANSCENDENCE had everything going for it. The script by Jack Paglan was on the famous Black List of well regarded, unproduced scripts, the director Wally Pfister has been Christopher Nolan’s resident cinematographer for nearly a decade now and its cast included Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman and House Of Cards wonderful Kate Mara. Despite advanced signs all being positive, how did the finished product end up being so dull?

As the title suggests, the entire movie ends up just being good enough. It all blurs into a miasma of half-baked but reasonably satisfying Sci-Fi for people who don’t really want to think but want to seem like they do. Transcendence is the tale of Johnny Depp as Will Caster, a genius Steve Jobs-esque eccentric who’s shot with a radiated bullet because terrorists don’t like his work with artificial intelligence. To save his life his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany) upload or indeed transcend him into his own technology to save him.  You can probably guess that this doesn’t work out well.

Unsurprisingly, the movie is very much Nolan-lite, it’s as if someone looked at Inception and tried to make something nearly as good but without the same flair or intelligence, it even uses Inception’s Cillian Murphy in the thankless role of a forgettable CIA agent. Wally Pfister shoots the entire film with a functional clarity but a lack of real engagement with the story that said Jack Paglan’s script doesn’t really give him much to work with offering a lot of questions but precious little in terms of anything close to answers.

The cast work well to try and remedy this, Johnny Depp is the most engaged he’s been in year’s as the awkward scientist slow becoming a megalomaniacal computer. Paul Bettany, Kate Mara and Rebecca Hall turn in convincing portrayals of woefully underwritten scripts, especially with Bettany managing to seriously say the line ‘we need to kill the internet’. Clifton Collins Jr manages to deliver the best performance as a builder that works for Depp delivering a short but affecting portrayal of wounded, intelligent masculinity.

The movie is watchable. That may sound like damning with faint praise but it’s the best it can do. This is a film not quite good enough to be the new 2001: A Space Odyssey but equally not bad enough to be a future drive-in classic. It seems destined to join its obvious forebear The Lawnmower Man as that film that’s on Channel five late at night you consider watching then probably choose sleep over it. I’m not saying that if you watch it you’ll regret it but don’t expect to be able to re-call most of it an hour later.