Critics and wannabe critics alike really lashed into this one. And I guess I have them to thank for me liking (not loving) this movie, as they lowered my standards significantly before I walked into the theater. Like them, my expectations were sky-high. I figured since Wally Pfister has been Christopher Nolan's cinematographer since 2000's Memento, maybe some sort of slow-release genius-osmosis had taken place, and Transcendence would be a stellar thriller/head- scratcher like we've come to expect from Nolan. Well, the cold hard fact is that it's not. But it sure isn't terrible.
As scientists are on the verge of a new breakthrough in A.I. technology, a rouge terrorist group known as RIFT begins knocking off labs around the country. One of their antics is the assassination, by radioactive poisoning, of scientist Dr. Will Caster. As his body slowly deteriorates, his wife and his partner work frantically work on a way to upload his mind to a computer, thus allowing him to continue his research. And as anyone could've guessed, the plan goes completely to hell.
Transcendence is not excellent, but it's also not the travesty that reviews from people more reputable than me are calling it. The main problem is the script. An excellent script can make you buy into even the most ridiculous of plots, but first-time-writer Jack Paglen's script never finds a constant tone, is unevenly paced, has underdeveloped side plots, and keeps you at arm's length from any connection with the characters and the story. In other words, it doesn't raise up any concerns or ideas we haven't already seen, and the shallowness of the script gives you plenty of time to question the incongruence of the story.
Other than that, Transcendence is pretty good. Pfister's direction is expedient, and he avoids the jumpy camera syndrome that typically plagues these kinds of movies. In fact I was even getting trappings of Chris Nolan's directing style at times (is it just me?). The ensemble performance from the cast is solid. The cast list may look like Nolan's leftovers, but they do an excellent job, and they make better use of the paltry script than I thought possible. Even though Pfister was behind the camera and not the cinematographer, you think he was going to let his baby look mundane? While not as gorgeous as, say Inception, Jess Hall hits it home and makes Transcendence look properly futuristic while still squeezing in some contrasting elements of nature in almost every frame.
Does 6 stars seem too high? I don't think so. In my mind, 10=revolutionary, 9=excellent, 8=very good, 7=pretty good and 6=jusk OK. An airtight script that rises up to the challenge was all that was needed to make Transcendence truly, um, transcendent. But it doesn't, and the lackluster script affects every other technical aspect of this film like a virus, and makes Transcendence a pretty- to-look-at popcorn movie. I know this is Wally Pfister's first time in the director's chair, but I still feel he was capable of making a film more nuanced than this.