(US/China - 2014)
Directed by Wally Pfister. Written by Jack Paglen. Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Josh Stewart, Lukas Haas, Cory Hardrict, Falk Hentschel, Steven Liu, Xander Berkeley, Wallace Langham. (PG-13, 119 mins)
Since his 2000 breakthrough MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan's go-to cinematographer has been Wally Pfister, who got his start working second unit camera crews on Roger Corman productions like BODY CHEMISTRY and SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III before photographing early 1990s straight-to-video erotic thriller "classics" like SECRET GAMES and ANIMAL INSTINCTS. Pfister got an Oscar for his work on Nolan's INCEPTION, and makes his directing debut with TRANSCENDENCE, which lists Nolan as an executive producer, features several Nolan vets in the cast (Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Josh Stewart, Lukas Haas), and has a very Nolan-like concept courtesy of first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen. Paglen's script is muddled, and though it's probably meant to be a gray area, there's no consistency in the characterizations or who the villain is really supposed to be. There's an argument for ambiguity but given how hopelessly convoluted and downright silly the whole film is, the answer could very well be that the filmmakers simply don't know. Considering its pedigree, TRANSCENDENCE is a misfire of catastrophic proportions, a supposedly cutting-edge vision filled with hard sci-fi techno-jargon, but it continually proclaims the most rudimentary messages that sound like Paglen's cribbing from a college freshman's Intro to Philosophy essay exam. It makes thuddingly obvious observations about the internet and our reliance on technology, with paranoid lip service paid to government surveillance and the lack of privacy in social media, tossing out buzzwords like "upload" and "off the grid" and even throws a bone to those who might still be losing sleep over Y2K. How old is this script? And how many times did it get shuffled to the bottom of Nolan's slush pile before he got sick of coming across it and punked his buddy Pfister into making it?
This film is an absolute mess. What is Christopher Nolan doing shepherding what amounts to little more than a $100 million remake of THE LAWNMOWER MAN? Paglen's script is an incoherent, nonsensical jumble. The film opens in a dystopian CHILDREN OF MEN-type setting, with keyboards being used as doorstops and Max mentioning that "there might be phone service in Denver." Will's death and subsequent online reanimation happened five years earlier, and the Brightwood plotline two years after that. Brightwood was funded with money stolen by "Will" and Evelyn. When Buchanan drags Tagger to Brightwood two years later, how is it possible that he hasn't brought along the entire bureau to arrest her? Instead, she introduces them to the virtual Will and then they leave to plot a military attack, with help from R.I.F.T. What the hell is the government doing working with a domestic terror organization? Especially the one that caused all the trouble by killing Will in the first place? We learn so little about Buchanan and R.I.F.T. leader Bree (Kate Mara) that it's probable that neither Pfister nor Paglen know, either. Does anyone pay for their crimes in TRANSCENDENCE's world?