"Transcendence" Review

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With a roster full of known faces, it may be understandable how the idea of “Transcendence” lured them all in. A man vs. machine film in which a human mind combines with a computer and causes chaos sounds good on paper. Throw on the fact that Wally Fister decided to step into the director’s chair for the first time, shedding his normal role as cinematographer of incredible films like “Batman Begins”, “The Prestige”, “Inception”, “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises”. The idea sounds great, but in a two hour movie it doesn’t play out as well. 

After her husband is shot by cyber terrorists, Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) just wants to keep him alive and with her. Her love for him transcends morality as she uses his research to try and copy his mind to an Artificial Intelligence he had already created. She has help from long time friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), who at the outset believes it is the right thing to do. Together they successfully upload Will’s mind onto a computer. Of course it’s not enough to be Hal 9000 and control a ship, Will wants to go global and make a better world. Max believes they should shut the computer down, but blinded by love, Evelyn helps Will to go online so that he can stay “alive” with her.

As Will starts to build an infrastructure where he can continue to grow, Bree (Kate Mara), the leader of the cyber terrorists who tried to end his life, teams up with Max and FBI Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) to bring Will down. Let’s not forget their sidekick Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman, who plays his usual role). Honestly, in the realm of suspending your disbelief, the first half of the film isn’t horrible. Transferring a mind by way of electrodes on the brain, I’m no scientist, but I don’t think we can do that. Yet it all plays out well for the beginning of the film, but once Will is set up in his new lab the plot holes get bigger. 

Evelyn continues to assist Will while starting to question his ethics. It's her blind love that damages the movie with how she tosses her brain out the window to support keeping Will "alive" while ironically she's supposed to be brilliant researcher who should "no" better. Ultimately, her staunch stance of support is the only thing to keep the film moving forward because if someone had just turned off the switch earlier...well there wouldn't be a movie. She finally wakes up and realizes that even though his mind (or something like it) is with her, he isn’t. It’s then that the movie takes on an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” theme as Will uses nano technology to heal people while taking over their minds. How did we jump to that? As to not have to write much more about this, let’s say that the good guys find a way to stop him, but not before taking casualties along the way.

The theme of morality with man vs. machine and an independent intelligence taking over the world (or a ship) has been done before in film and done so much better. If you’re going to the movies this weekend “Transcendence” should not be on your list of possibilities. Trust me. Transcend the urge to see a movie just because Johnny Depp is in it. 

Rating: D-

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Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.