Considering it was Wally Pfister’s directorial debut (Pfister is an acclaimed cinematographer that is most known for his collaborations with The Dark Knight Trilogy director Christopher Nolan), Transcendence was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2014. However, poor reviews and bad word of mouth convinced me to wait for home release to see it instead of in theaters where it was released back in April. Transcendence certainly has its faults, but there is also a lot to like. With a good sci-fi plot and a mostly great cast, Transcendence is able to overcome its inability to find an identity for itself.
Transcendence sets itself up as your typical robots take over the world scenario when a scientist (Johnny Depp), slowly dying from an injury he sustained during a terrorist attack, loads his mind with the help of his wife (Rebecca Hall) into a machine to give it a conscious. While this storyline can become a bit convoluted and requires some jumps in logic, the themes in this film are interesting enough to overcome this. However, it doesn’t help that through this storyline, Transcendence also struggles to form a concrete identity. The film can’t help to decide whether it is some campy B-movie or a serious thriller about humanity’s fate in the world. None of this film is supposes to make sense, but it’s done in a dark and stylistic sense that makes it seem like it’s supposed to be taken seriously. Fortunately, this all leads to a more than satisfying twist ending that may be overlooked because it’s a twist in a thematic sense rather than a plot sense.
Among its cast, Rebecca Hall delivers another fantastic performance. The promotional footage really hides Hall’s role but she is the real lead of the film, and she once again shows why she is such an underrated actress. Johnny Depp is also well cast even if he isn’t required to do much, while the normally underused Paul Bettany gets some material to work with here. Unfortunately, Kate Mara is completely miscast as a wise and charismatic terrorist/freedom fighter organization leader while Morgan Freeman is stuck walking around and spouting off exposition every once in a while.
Transcendence has some major problems, but as a directorial debut it’s a decent effort from Wally Pfister as he is still able to get the more interesting points out of Jack Paglen’s script. Pfister also displays a mastery of craftwork as the effects and sound work of the film are both top-notch. This is a messy film, but it’s an intriguing mess.