Release: Friday, April 18, 2014


Lol, uh. . .wut?

Well, this WAS supposed to be the ‘don’t-give-up-yet-on-Johnny-Depp’ movie, one that would give the colorful thespian room to breathe without his usual cloak of weirdness. . .no Captain Jack Sparrow accent, no scissor hands and no crazy Tonto face paint this time. In a cruel twist of fate, Depp is rewarded for his refreshingly restrained performance by playing one of the most outlandish characters he’s ever been handed, an ill-fated scientist who ends up having to communicate through an advanced computer system in what can only be described as the best performance ever committed via Skype.

Sound strange? That’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

This, the debut film from acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister — yes, Christopher Nolan’s Wally Pfister since Batman Begins  starts out as a rather unsuspecting sci-fi/mystery but quickly devolves into a thoroughly unbelievable and downright laughable affair that only gets more mysterious by the minute (a compliment, that is not). First-time direction from Pfister, coupled with Jack Paglen’s first major motion picture screenplay, creates an atmosphere that recalls a particularly acid-trippy episode of The X Files. So much for Depp coming across as normal.

Drs. Will (Depp) and Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) Caster are brilliant scientists on the cutting edge of technology with their research in the field of artificial intelligence. Together they yearn to create a computer with the collective human consciousness uploaded to it — an advanced machine like the world has never seen before. Such experiments have of course drawn massive publicity of both the positive and negative variety, and after a presentation one afternoon Will is gunned down by some anti-technology extremist. The shot itself isn’t fatal, but unfortunately for Will and Evelyn the bullet was coated in radioactive material which has infected his blood. In his dying days, Will watches as his wife and their long-time friend and fellow researcher Max (Paul Bettany) tempt what they only think is conceivable and not necessarily doable at the moment.

(Please don’t laugh at me in the comments when you read the next part. I am just the messenger here.)

They will try and upload Will’s consciousness into their computer system and keep him alive digitally since his brain/mind is in tact but his physical body clearly has been compromised. Just typing that conjures up images of a less gory Re-Animator. Except wacky, old Herbert West the med student might have had a more logical experiment going on in his lab.

Ethical boundaries begin to be flirted with (and later on prove to be violated) as Evelyn refuses to acknowledge the fact that once he’s dead, her husband will cease to be the man she has loved, and instead will only exist in some weird, nebulous cyberspace as a collection of pixels arranged on a screen his face happens to appear on. Pfister, in one of many ill-advised directorial movies, has Depp’s voice echo in a surround-sound like fashion whenever he’s on-screen following the. . .transformation. . . .to place emphasis on the concept that this man — this lunatic — hasn’t just merely disappeared inside a computer. He’s transcended human existence and can quite literally play God with the wealth of information and knowledge he now has.

The film’s only rational character Max isn’t so sure about the idea of his best friend being resurrected in a digital form. What good is going to come of this, he wonders as he notices Evelyn becoming more obsessed with the idea of keeping her husband alive. Meanwhile, the audience has checked out and is currently noticing that the cupholders in these particular armrests have no bottom to them so that’s why whenever you put your cell phone in there they fall right to the floor. Well, cool. Mystery solved!

In the meantime, Transcendence continues talking to itself in a language only it can understand. The characters are unsympathetic because they are completely kept out of our reach — we can’t really identify with or get behind any of them. Perhaps Max, but even then this connection is rather fleeting. The script is much too interested in stuffing technobabble down our throats than drawing us in with character development. In an area where Hall typically excels, she gives it her all to seem saddened by her loss as Will succumbs to radiation poisoning, and it comes close to making us feel somewhat human in this doggedly mechanical affair.

Boring, confusing and more often downright nonsensical, Transcendence fails to engage on any level and is perhaps the first film of 2014 that should be outright avoided at the theater.


The very white Rebecca Hall in a very white hall. She looks even more cheesed off about the irony than I am. I guess that makes sense.

1-5Recommendation: Considering I’ve only just gotten over my sobbing about my disappointment in this final cut, I would have to pretty much recommend getting pneumonia over seeing this one. Well, okay. Maybe not pneumonia; that’s a bit extreme. Maybe a cold, though. It is quite simply ridiculous from the ground floor-up, on every level this movie makes no sense and refuses to try to explain itself.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Where are you going?”


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42 thoughts on “Transcendence

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. “I would have to pretty much recommend getting pneumonia over seeing this one.” LOL. Ouch! I see where you’re coming from though. This one was a disappointment for sure. Freeman and Murphy were totally wasted, and Depp was very “meh.” The tech was confusing. The story was not great. At least the effects were kinda cool…Small victories, I guess.


    • 😀 That line was meant to sting. I detested this film. I really did, and it’s not often I come out of a theater in a worse mood than when I go in. hahah but here’s an example. I can’t understand how the concept was apparently SO high-brow they couldn’t even make a simple story come across even entertaining. Pfister et al were all more interested in trying to reach such a high level of intellect the entire thing crumbled. haha.

      Agreed on the special effects being small victories. We must take what we can get, as moviegoers, eh? 🙂


    • And so you shouldn’t be Josh, this is an astounding mess. It recalls the level of bafflingness that The Counselor approached last season. So much talent amassed for so much crap in the end. Bizarre.

      Although, the film looks pretty.


      • Indeed it did. On that note, I am really trying to decide which one was superior. I tend to think this one was. There were some really cool shots, even if they were added in awkwardly. (Case in point, the sunflower at the end)


  3. This thing is getting hammered and I am stunned. I was pretty excited about it but I really don’t think I’m going to waste my money on it. I do sometimes go against the grain when it comes to movies (see my love for The Monuments Men as an example), but this sounds like a big letdown.


    • Your review of The Monuments Men was really good and did make me see that flick in a different light. But I’m fairly sure there’s so much wrong with Transcendence that, give or take a few different bits and bobs, you’ll end up wallking out thinking/wanting to say the same things! haha. This seemed like an awfully rushed production too, the more I look back on it. They could have sent this back to post-production several times and made some finer editing adjustments. But. . .yeah. As is, I don’t really even recommend a rental.


  4. Pingback: The Lunchbox | digitalshortbread

    • It was a full on P.P., man (Piss Poor) lol

      I would say I would like to see a review from ya but I would encourage staying away in all honesty. The typical Johnny Depp Show is better than this movie.


    • That pretty much describes exactly how I approached this. Held out a lot of hope that Depp would be good in a movie that features him in more ‘normal’ role. I still appreciate his goofiness, but it has gotten old. Tonto is the last role he should do like that for. . .well, years. Unfortunately, Transcendence isn’t going to help him out in the immediate future. And poor Paul Bettany suffers here, too.


  5. Felt like it had so much to say, but somehow, didn’t say anything at all. Never really seemed all that confident with itself in the first place, anyway. Good review Tom.


    • It had too much to say and then didn’t really make those things clear. It was certainly a cool premise enough, and the execution just completely butchered it.


  6. Nooooooo!!!! Fucking hell! Poor Wally!! I’m sure he’ll bounce back…right?…right?! I kept thinking…”okay, Depp chose the script, which is frightening seeing as he up typically picks over-the-top, idiotic roles, but Cillian and Rebecca also signed on, so maybe there’s hope for Depp yet, because those two would never choose an ill-fitting role.” Boy, I think Cillian, Rebecca, and crew did this as a favour to Nolan and company.


    • I would say that’s a pretty safe bet man. There’s too many talented people stranded in an absolute quagmire of a script. . .When it gets to the point where Morgan Freeman sounds bad in a movie, you have a problem! Lol!

      I might forgive Wally if he just sticks with shooting beautiful cinematography. Because honestly, that was still one of the strong points of Transcendence.


      • Actually, I take that back, since he was not the one who shot the film of course. Lol. That distinction belongs to, who. . . Jess Hall, I believe? Either way. The film looks good.


  7. Agreed. Saw this recently and I couldn’t get into it. So boring. My review should be up by Monday. Heaven is for Real came out this weekend too and I actually liked that more..


    • I am waiting to see Heaven is for Real still, it has been sold out here in the Southeast for the third night running. It’s absolutely crazy, but I guess that speaks to the demographic over here!

      I eagerly await to see what you said, I imagine itll be similarly scathing? This just let me down completely. I felt like I could have even been harsher. .


  8. OUCH! Gotta say, the trailers didn’t really ensnare my hopes with this one, or my interest, but I really wanted to see Depp back on form again at some stage. Sadly it seems that this is not that time. Great review Tom!


    • Ensnare!!!! *Bonus points for one of my top five words!*

      If the trailers didn’t do much for you, hahah. . .give the film itself the widest berth you can give it. It’s awful. Such a shame, too. The cast is truly great! Johnny Depp, I like. Wally Pfister. . .great cinematographer. This is a little like the phenomenon that was The Counselor, so much talent assembled to create a piece of garbage. Truly mysterious, lol


      • *gimme them bonus points*

        I don’t know, I can’t foresee myself watching it in cinema, or putting it high up when it hits DVD, either. Maybe one day in the distant future I will come back to you and we can bitch together! I didn’t see The Counselor either, it just looked so meh!


      • You are saving yourself considerable amounts of gray hairs by not sitting through bad/disappointing films like The Counselor and this one.

        Wise you are, young grasshopper! 😀


  9. I kindly disagree. I think all the bad reviews on this film are stupid. Dude, Johnny Depp is dating Amber Heard. That means that this is awesome and that this is the best movie ever. While folks are bashing his great movie and speaking nonsensical nonsense, he is in bed transcending the sexual heights of Heard’s scrumptious bottoms. As we speak, he is feeling a delicious sense of transcendence. Literally! Tom, I think this review reeks of jealousy and I am ashamed to call myself a loyal reader of yours.


    • Nah, I’m full of ****. I know this will suck and I really want to watch it just to see how bad it sucks. I actually called this from the first time I seen the trailer. I think that I am a genius and that I can predict the future. No surprise there.

      Great review as always!


      • “Scrumptious bottoms,” eh? hahaha! I love it. That is a very valid argument you drive there, good sir. I had forgotten he was in a relatio with Amber Heard. I try to deny this information myself, because it pains me to think about it. Either way, if she had gotten involved in Transcendence, the film would have improved two-fold. It might have even gotten a 4/8.

        As it is, my god. Don’t do this to yourself. It’s a little desperate. And a shame Wally Pfister’s image is somewhat blighted now


        • She can entirely boost my opinion of a film when those scrumptious bottoms appearing on-screen! She is perhaps the only actress in history that I recall going out of my way to find her sex scenes….should I be publicly admitting this? Sorry Depp, she is more interesting to talk about about than your new movie!

          But about the movie, a guy posted on Facebook that “Transcendence was incredible”. I started the trend of asking if he was serious and more followed leading to him being incredibly annoyed….because he totally was serious. Poor fellow!


      • haha aww. poor guy. I mean, if he liked it. . . .I would seriously like to have a chat with him and see what he took away and what I missed. And yes, Amber Heard will always be more interesting than any odd thing Depp might be doing. It’s funny. She was in a horrendous film last year called Paranoia (I think. . .yeah, that was it), and that I believe wound up as a 2/8 here too. Except on RT it was something like a 2% ! Truly, awful. And now, here’s Johnny Depp’s turn. I guess a 19% is a bit better than 2, but still. I consider this Depp’s worst movie. Or one can at least hope, anyway


      • Paranoia looked like absolute trash! Like I mean trash that is left out for days, trashed by raccoon’s, and holds the title of the smelliest in trashville! Glad I dodged that steaming pile of trash that could have been headed in my direction if I wasn’t careful…

        Sorry Amber Heard. I still love you. You are far from trash!


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