You know you’re in trouble when you come out of a film and you can’t work out what the hell it was about.
To be fair, some films are deliberately ambiguous about their message. Others just don’t know what it is they’re trying to say.
Transcendence is the latter.
You may have seen the trailers. If you’re a fan of DC Comic’s New 52 run, you’ll have seen the adverts. And you’ll probably still be none the wiser.
Well, welcome to my world.
At it’s most basic level, the film is about a top scientist blokie (Will Caster, played by Johnny Depp) who gets his brain uploaded onto a super server by his heartbroken Mrs (Evelyn, played by Rebecca Hall).
Now, I know what you’re going to say – surely that’s OK, just as long as she doesn’t connect a super intelligence to the internet nothing can go wrong.
To be fair, there are a number of people who can see the flaw in this plan. And they do try to stop it happening.
But they fail.
So they have to try again, only this time Caster has rigged the markets, made his wife (Widow? I mean, sure he’s dead, but in many ways he’s still alive. Let’s go with semi-widow) rich beyond her wildest dreams, bought a town, created a super computer facility and advanced technology at a rate that would impress the Borg.
And all from the warmth of his processor.
And this is where the message gets seriously muddled.
You see, on the one hand it’s a story of how love can overcome anything. On the other hand it’s about the dangers of allowing technology to become all consuming. On the third hand it’s about the fear of change stopping progress. On the fourth hand, it’s about letting the genie out of the bottle. On the fifth hand, there’s the whole God question.
But writer Jack Paglen fails to come to a conclusion on any of those things – he’s just happy to go ‘this happens, and this happens, and this happens, and…’.
It would have been nice if he’d even attempted to create well-rounded characters, but hey. You can’t have everything.
Amazingly, though, it’s not all bad.
If you can stop your brain asking all the questions it will want to ask (such as ‘how did he not know they were digging the tunnel?’), sit back and just look at the view then you won’t have wasted your money.
You see, directing this jigsaw puzzle of a movie is the one and only Wally Pfister – a man best known for making Christopher Nolan’s films look all shiny.
And, a few ‘for the hell of it’ shots aside, he’s done a good job. He’s got decent performances out of everyone (even if Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara are pretty much cruising through the movie), it looks amazing…
Well, OK, that’s pretty much it.
But it does look amazing.
The problems, though, are all in the writing. Granted it’s Paglen’s first film, so hopefully he’ll learn from this, but someone somewhere should have read this and gone ‘it’s all a bit flat, innit’.
We know nothing about the people, no questions are asked of the science, no stand is taken, no conclusions reached – it’s as if the AI machine PINN wrote the whole thing.
Using computer logic, it works – there are full stops, commas, dialogue, action, in fact all the key elements you’d say make up a screenplay.
But it lacks heart, it lacks soul. It lacks passion. It’s a thriller that fails to thrill, an action film that lacks action.
The whole thing just leaves you wondering what you watched – and more importantly, why.
But it does look lovely.
(I’ll be honest, this has been the toughest reviews I’ve written in a while. It would have been so much easier if I’d hated it.)