‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is an oft-used phrase. The quest for knowledge and riches has seen conquerors rise and fall. The moral lessons of their endeavours have been used in stories for centuries.
Transcendence gives this motif a high-tech spin. With computers replacing the swords and bombs of old, it has given new goal-seekers another tool in achieving their sometimes dangerous aims.
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a leading expert in artificial intelligence. Wanting to create a machine having its own intellect to gather information, his work has been controversial. Aided by his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany), it seems he may reach his target but his plans are thrown into disarray when nearly killed by extremists. Requesting his mind be downloaded into the machine so his life can be saved, this new powerful entity unleashes a portent for humanity’s doom.
Much criticised for its slow pace, Transcendence gives new meaning to the term ‘glacial story-telling’. That doesn’t mean it isn’t reasonably engaging but an editor’s eye could have made it better. Blame should be rested on Wally Pfister’s shoulders in his directing debut. Overseeing the examination of the misguided abuse of power and the fight against technology, his fumbled mishandling of the story nearly derails it.
Showing fine flair in making the worldwide threat seem real, Pfister also draws out some good performances. Depp provides a quiet menace to his role with Hall successfully making her character’s actions believable. Their characters’ romance lends Transcendence an unexpectedly tragic air as their love transcends cyber-space. The action sequences are well staged, almost managing to cover the many gaping plot holes.
Transcendence is a fair sci-fi romantic thriller without lingering too much on the memory. The acting is solid even if the slow pace isn’t. Its messages on technology become lost amongst the cutting room floor.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 6