By Todd Perkins, Armstrong’s own Leonard Maltin
Wally Pfister has served as Christopher Nolan’s director of photography since Nolan hit it big with his breakout film “Memento,” and he has now been given the chance to show what he can do with a big budget project of his own with “Transcendence.” With a cast as famous and revered as Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman and a science-fiction premise dealing with issues such as true love, artificial intelligence and the nature of human consciousness, it seems that the chance for success would be guaranteed from the get-go. Unfortunately, the result is a lifeless, routine sci-fi thriller more likely to lull audiences to sleep than into deep thought.
In a somewhat-different role of late for the superstar, Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a normal, non-makeup-wearing scientist who is shot after giving a presentation on the future of computer intelligence. With only months to live, Caster allows his wife Evelyn (Hall) and best friend Max (Bettany) to upload his consciousness into an advanced computer system that retains the essence of Will after his physical body shuts down. Though Evelyn follows computer program Will’s requests of accessing bank codes and being uploaded online without any hesitation, Max and others worry that there may be more machine than Will present.
The film is shot in a way that is impressive and engaging, which is what one would expect from a film directed by a former cinematographer like Pfister. The attention to detail regarding the technical aspects of the advanced technology depicted in the movie is set up in a way that would make the likes of Stanley Kubrick proud. The problem is that nothing else in the film seems to click. The script is a mess with various ideas but nothing to say about them, the pacing is off, and the direction is scattered and unconfident, which is a shame considering the amount of potential that awaits the talents of the man who sat behind the camera that shot “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.”
The cast is ready and game to do their best, but there is nothing for them to do in the script other than stare at visual effects and computer monitors while spouting meaningless dialogue. Hall and Bettany stand out among the cast as being truly exceptional performers who come the closest to saving the film, but they are outmatched by an uninspired script. Depp gives a good performance, but he is given such little screen time that he fails to make a real impression on screen. Despite limited screen presence, Depp and Hall do show real chemistry in their scenes together, which is refreshing to find in a genre where there is usually nothing that feels genuine in the relationships between the main characters that are supposedly in love.
There is nothing new being discussed here, even though it is clear that there is real effort to deliver a stellar story. The effects are great, the acting is solid, and the film looks terrific, but it feels as if it lacks soul. “Transcendence” is not a terrible film, far from it actually, but it is just sad to see a film made by smart people who know how to make great films fall short in almost every possible way.