Review: Transcendence

May 5, 2014


It’s a trap! The all-star cast of Transcendence lures you in, only to leave you in a dark room for two hours wondering why you’re being bored to death.

Johnny Depp plays Dr Will Caster in this sci-fi flop that focuses on whether a machine can ever have consciousness.

Depp is shot with a radioactive bullet by an extreme anti-technology terrorist group who believe artificial intelligence is a sin against mankind. Depp then proceeds to upload his “self” onto a computer and we are faced with the question of whether it is really him inside the machine or a computer programme that just has access to his memories.

“Can you prove you’re self-aware?” is a question asked repeatedly throughout the film and one we are provoked into realising will never have a satisfactory answer.

There is nothing wrong with the concept behind the film of a mind being transferred onto a machine – it’s actually a very interesting and original idea. It is the direction the film is taken in that lets it down and the fact that such a good idea is wasted due to poor execution.

It should have either been a crazy, dystopian epic or a thoughtful, philosophical film that focused on the ethics of the situation and looked deeper into what it is to be human. Transcendence tries to be both yet achieves neither.

There are numerous scenes that tease you with conflict but they are short-lived and there’s no crescendo towards the end of the film, leaving the audience feeling unsatisfied and unmoved. There’s a hint of “deep” thought in the movie but it is not given enough time to really develop into something of substance.

Character wise, there is a glaring lack of emotion between any of them and Depp’s performance is so hollow and half-arsed you start to wonder if someone downloaded his charisma and replaced it with a shoe. Morgan Freeman randomly narrates a scene at one point and it’s laughable because not only is it a cliché, it sums up perfectly what the film is doing – trying way too hard. It’s as if they’ve written an equation on what normally makes a film good (original idea + Johnny Depp + Morgan Freeman narrating) but screwed up the maths somewhere and forgotten key components such as writing and direction.

Other problems include Kate Mara’s awful blonde wig. It’s so bad it’s distracting and deserves its own review because it is one of the most intriguing parts of the film. They clearly had a big budget – so why use such a crappy wig? She could be saying anything and it wouldn’t really matter because all you can hear is your mind screaming “wig!” every time she’s on screen.

Perhaps the main reason the film fails to transcend is because it is rated a 12A. When I noticed a 6 year old boy enter the cinema, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to get the violence or deep philosophical insight I’d hoped for. The kid kept getting up and leaving and now I wish I’d done the same. Kudos small boy, kudos.