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Review: Transcendence

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Synopsis: Science folks Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany are all about the further development of scientific wonders and they’ve only gone and designed a super-advanced AI software. It’d be awfully handy if one of this trio could get shot so they could put the tech to the test. Oh, hi, vacant Kate Mara.

So, uh, yeah, more like ‘TranscendPANTS’, guys. Almost needless to say (you’ve seen the trailer, right?Transcendence, the directorial debut of long-time Director of Photography, Wally Pfister is quite the disappointment.

Most infuriatingly (let’s not waste time, here, there’s a film to trash), Transcendence posits through basic narrative circumstance some great topics for exploration and debate (the ramifications of groups against the advancement of technology; the what-ifs regarding the existence of a soul if human consciousness can be replicated by a machine; the human condition adapting to new, unhuman methods of life), yet first-time writer Jack Paglen fails to explore any of these with real substance.

The film might get away with being pissantly ignorant of the themes which drew audiences towards it in the first place but because it is populated with severely underdeveloped characters (as well as insanely stupid ones) and a plot that is more bare than a Jackass film it is hard not to run from your seat and punch the clerk who allowed you to buy a ticket to see the darn thing.

A plus is that the performances from most of the headlining cast – barring Kate Mara genuinely looking constipated through all of her scenes and Morgan Freeman being present for the sole purpose of the film squeezing in a Morgan Freeman voiceover – are pretty sublime for the most part. Whilst underused, Paul Bettany is a pleasure, grounding the film’s few arguments nicely, and Rebecca Hall steals the spotlight entirely. It really is a crime that Hall receives third-billing as this film belongs to her, no matter whose face plasters all of the production’s marketing materials. Johnny Depp has failings throughout but his monotonous scientist-turned-unwittingly evil app is on the whole more pleasing to watch than say his Tonto or more phoned in wack-job performances.

Given Pfister’s catalogue of work, defining the rich look of Christopher Nolan’s numerous worlds amongst others, Transcendence is remarkably bland on the eyes, too; so where plot, character and theme fail we can’t even enjoy the pretty pictures through the two hour slog. Ultimately, it would seem that Hollywood blockbusters are a lot harder to make than they seem and Transcendence’s key creative crew is populated by a few too many first-timers.

Of course, whilst the film has been all but universally slammed by critics and audiences I am reminded of one line of dialogue that sticks to mind: Depp’s scientist refutes an unfavourable scientific argument with a childish “That is your opinion, which happens to be wrong.” In a perfect world we would all be wrong, but if forced to choose one AI-related film from those released this year, this film fan would pick the one starring a porno-tached Joaquin Phoenix every time.

@sjbowron

Transcendence is, unfortunately, in cinemas nationwide from April 25th.

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