Movie Review: Transcendence Stumbles


Cary, NC — Transcendence tries, like many great science fiction films before it, to use genre filmmaking as a way of looking into our society and any other particular subject. Here, it’s mankind’s abuse and over reliance of technology. First time director Wally Pfister has assembled an impressive group of actors and filmmakers to bring this film to the big screen, but unfortunately his inexperience gets the best of him as Transcendence fails as both entertainment and science-fiction allegory.

First-Time Director Stumbles

First, let’s talk about director Pfister. The man has had a successful career as a cinematographer for many years, filming the last seven Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy) films. Nolan served as a producer on Transcendence, and Pfister was able to bring on-board a lot of the actors who had appeared in the aforementioned films to show up for this one.  Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, both of whom appeared in Nolans’ Bat-films are cast here as well.

In fact, Transcendence feels an awful lot like a Christopher Nolan movie. In any other circumstance,  I would mean that as a compliment, but here it just feels like Pfister is recycling what he saw Nolan do, as opposed to actually learning from it. There is nothing in Transcendence that suggests Pfister has any kind of voice as a director. To be fair, it’s only his first film, but it’s hard to be forgiving when he comes out swinging for the fences on his first try.

 Not All The Director’s Fault

Not everything can be blamed on the director. I’m pretty easy when it comes to “suspension of disbelief.” But that doesn’t mean I expect to turn my brain off when I watch a movie.  I usually have no problem when a movie asks me to  accept something that isn’t 100% realistic, as long as they can sell me on the concept in some way, shape or form. This can be something as simple as a line of dialogue, or even plain old confidence in the filmmaking. Transcendence has neither of these, as least not believably.

Comes Off As Silly Instead of Dangerous

The main danger in the film, a sentient artificial intelligence inhabited by Johnny Depp’s character, never feels dangerous. Yes, the internet can be a scary place, but Pfister and company are never able to make the threat feel real, instead the concept comes off as overblown and silly.

Not helping matters is the over-reaction of just about every character in the movie. For example, an FBI agent, played by Cillian Murphy, visits the compound that Depp has amassed in the desert by way of internet hacking and stock marketing, and he immediately jumps to the conclusion that the only way to stop him is to shut the entire internet down. All of it! What’s worse is the character didn’t even witness anything terribly troubling while he was there, but because the story needs some kind of end game it rushes to such outlandish conclusions.


In the end, that’s what killed Transcendence for me. I just didn’t buy into anything that was happening. I feel the need to mention that the movie really isn’t terrible, just disappointing. In fact, the movie is shot rather well, no surprise with Pfister’s cinematography background. And the actors do everything that is asked of them as best they can. Even Depp, whose last films have been particularly painful, comes out unscathed, though that’s mostly because he doesn’t have much to do.

Transcendence – Skip It

Even if Transcendence had just missed the mark on telling an interesting allegory about the dangers of technology, there was still a chance it could have been an entertaining and over the top sci-fi flick, but it fails at that too. Skip Transcendence and go see Captain America again instead.


Jordan Hunt covers the movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews.

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