"We're not gonna fight them. We're gonna transcend them."
Transcendence is one of those rare films where you can't quite grasp what exactly it is that's missing, but somehow it fails to find a connection with most audiences. Wally Pfister seemed to have all the right ingredients for his directing debut. He had a terrific cast including Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, and Kate Mara, and a strong screenplay that Christopher Nolan even considered to use before going on to make Interstellar. We also know that Pfister can handle the visuals because he has been the cinematographer for Nolan in all his films since Memento. The film looks great and has a strong cast, but the characters and the story simply didn't draw me in. For a film that tries to be thought provoking, I found it extremely difficult to stay awake or even care for the premise. It tries to build suspense and make us consider how dangerous our technological advancements have become, but it succeeds at neither. I don't want to get into spoiler territory either, but I found the final act incoherent as it was completely changing the message it was giving all along. I was really disappointed with this film and found it quite boring.
He may seem like the main character, but Johnny Depp doesn't get much screen time in this film. He plays Dr. Will Caster, one of the lead researchers and entrepreneurs in the field of Artificial Intelligence. He works alongside his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and they are currently trying to create a sentient machine with human emotions (which is referred to in the scientific community as Technological Singularity, but Will likes to call it Transcendence). Paul Bettany is Max Waters, one of Evelyn and Will's best friends and fellow researcher. Their work has received a lot of attention, but not everyone is happy about this. A radical anti-technology organization led by Bree (Kate Mara) will do what it takes to stop them before they continue having success with their experimentation.
The performances were solid, but the story just felt flat and failed to engage me. I didn't really care for any of the characters either. Most of the actors were underused, and the only noteworthy thing about Transcendence was its visuals. The inconsistencies in some of the characters is what really hurt this film in my opinion, and I think they simply tried to tie things up too neatly at the end by redeeming some of things that had been done earlier on. The film also seems to have some pacing issues as it drags during several scenes and feels way too long. The film lacks thrills and feels unfocused making it hard to follow at times. I usually like smart sci-fi films, but this one felt all over the place and could have used some of that Artificial Intelligence to help with the production of the film so it would be more coherent. It never transcends from the screen to our brains in the way it so desperately tries to.