Artificially Intelligent

Transcendence is clever, not brilliant

Dear cast and crew of Transcendence,

It sucks, but this happens sometimes. You’ve made a perfectly fine (albeit unremarkable) movie, and the critics, both professionals and those deputized by social media, have decided to work you over like you owe them money. It should take human rights violations for a film to score below Need for Speed on this year’s Rotten Tomatoes’ “freshness” scale.

Oh, was that rubbing it in? Sorry.

Here’s what happened: You know how you have that friend who is pretty good at trivia but thinks that means he’s Albert Einstein’s equal? No! I’m not saying your film is pseudo-intellectual! It’s, you know, kinda clever in parts… It’s just that director Wally Pfister clearly thought he was blowing our minds with nuanced existential evolutionary questions when this was just The Borg from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” meets Tron.

You don’t see the comparison? Artificial-intelligence scientist Will Caster (Johnny Depp) gets fatally wounded, and his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and best friend, Max (Paul Bettany) insert his mind into a computer. Then, weird nanotechnology that feels like magical mumbo jumbo allows Will to “network” other living human beings into one “collective.” Thus, a group of terrorists led by Bree (Kate Mara) and a scientist working with the government, Joseph (Morgan Freeman), try to stop robo-Will. You have to see the similarity to The Borg, even if Freeman is no Jean-Luc Picard.

Note to self: Start fan-fiction in which Freeman is Jean-Luc Picard.

Part of the collective rage-stroke about your passable movie is people thought their nostalgic version of Depp had returned. Honestly, he was never that great, only capable of being whimsically odd or totally boring. Sans his typical caked-on makeup and Tim Burton influence, Depp completely shut down all charisma. It was hard to tell when Will looked lifeless because he was CGI and when he looked lifeless because Depp may actually have died inside.

Hey, what was with the decision to have Hall weepy for two hours? Seriously, there’s a drought in California! If she can produce that much eye liquid, you should really collect it. Bettany was fine, but boy did you really waste Mara and Freeman. The latter may sleepwalk through performances for paychecks these days, but Mara is hungry, even in her wasted role here.

I was rooting for you right up until the final act. There was something cool about having the audience side with terrorists and fear our own intellectual progress until you decided to, quite literally, water that down. At its best, Transcendence could have been the cyberpunk of William Gibson or the speculative fiction of Philip K Dick. Instead, it was like listening to someone who read Gibson and Dick try to seem smart by retelling their books to you. Still, y’all don’t deserve the piñata treatment you’re receiving, not when we live in a world that will soon have three Expendables movies.

In short, feel better guys! At least one critic thinks you’re wonderfully average!

Grade = C

posted at 10:50 am
on Friday, April 18th, 2014

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