Transcendence movie poster
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Transcendence
Transcendence movie poster

Transcendence Movie Review

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Transcendence isn't as bad as people say. As long as you stop watching 20 minutes before it ends.

Johnny Depp's latest flop is about a scientist and advocate for artificial intelligence who is murdered by radicals worried that his work will lead to the end of humanity. Instead of truly dying, however, his consciousness is uploaded into a computer—where he begins to learn at an exponential rate. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I went into Transcendence with really low expectations. After all, critics—including critics I agree with—hated it, calling it dumb, boring and even more dumb. Oh, and Johnny Depp hasn't made a good movie in over a decade.

Thanks to those low expectations, Transcendence isn't nearly as bad as everyone says it is. First-time director Wally Pfister and first time writer Jack Paglen have assembled a somewhat ambitious exploration into an inevitable technology that ultimately poses questions such as, what makes us human? Do you need a body to be human?

From a purely theoretical perspective, Transcendence is good science fiction.

For the most part, Transcendence is entertaining. Rebecca Hall's character is rather obnoxious—for such a smart woman, her character is amazingly oblivious to the risks at hand—and Johnny Depp is probably miscast. But the movie maintains a decent pace, and the elements involving the radicals (led in part by Kate Mara) is interesting. Paul Bettany is particularly good.

But fuck. Those last 20 minutes.

To say the ending completely ruined Transcendence isn't completely accurate. I was never bored, and I didn't feel like I wasted my time.

But fuck. Those last 20 minutes.

Earlier in this review, I called Transcendence good science fiction. That was a lie. The filmmakers took a science fiction concept and ran with it, and in the process they ended up making an "original" (i.e. not a sequel, remake or adaptation) mainstream production. That's great. But the filmmakers don't carry through with the concept.

The last 20 minutes contradict the questions raised, concerns posed and implications... implied... by the movie. Johnny Depp's actions don't align at all with what the filmmakers were apparently building toward. In fact, his actions don't make sense at all. Hell, the entire ending of Transcendence makes no sense. In fact, it makes so little sense it is fucking insulting.

Had I made this movie, I would have taken it in a different direction. Instead of ending (spoiler) on a positive note, Transcendence should have ended in a much more disconcerting way: humanity realizing that Depp's essence has indeed evolved beyond restraint and is essentially unstoppable.

But it didn't really matter. Because fuck. Those last 20 minutes.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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