It’s interesting to see that Johnny Depp is at a point in his career where he can just film himself with the cast for twenty minutes worth of a two hour movie, and then just rely on special effects for the rest of the film. I imagine Depp was in a bungalow vacationing, and would interrupt his getaway to film his footage for a few days with green screen. For a film that revolves around demonizing technology to emphasize how it destroys humanity and human contact, it’s inadvertently comical to see most of Depp’s performance rely solely on him having zero contact with anyone in the cast. And even when Depp is on screen, you’d swear he was being played by a robotic double still figuring out that tricky concept called emotions.
Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a very brilliant scientist figuring out how to build an advanced form of AI that can connect to the entire world. He wants the AI to become something of a cognizant and somewhat omnipotent presence in our lives that can advance our way of living. For some reason, there’s a terrorist cell named RIFT devoted to destroying technicians building any form of AI, and their efforts to stop the progress of Caster’s concept of “Transcendence” (that’s the buzz word for the movie, as it’s repeated about fifty times throughout the duration!) are also comical. In the opening scenes they murder a group of computer techs by poisoning them with birthday cake, and murder Will by shooting him with a radiation laced bullet. A shot to the head or heart would have worked faster; who runs this group? Dr. Evil?
Will’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall is striking) conveniently transfers his consciousness to a massive computer network, and despite dying, he awakens again as the AI that he spent his life mastering. Except, as Evelyn and Will’s friend Max (Paul Bettany) has warned, Will soon begins to use his absolute power to build an army of drones, and war begins. “Transcendence” is two hours of yet another tale of megalomania through the advancements of technology that’s absolutely tedious, and lackluster. For such a wonderful cast, they have nothing to do but mug for the camera (Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman are especially pointless), and over explain everything for the audience that has no idea what the hell is going on. The movie is so clumsy and hackneyed it feels like the origins of a 1940’s comic book villain, sans the superhero.
Just think of junk like “Lawnmower Man,” and “The Mangler 2,” and you pretty much sum up what director Wally Pfister tries to pass off as a sophisticated techno-thriller. Much of what occurs is very predictable and lacking in any kind of shocks or real commentaries on playing God with technology. It’s all been done and said before, so “Transcendence” rolls over the same fodder we’ve seen a thousand times over by much more creative people. The only performer in the group who isn’t sleepily walking through their role is Kate Mara, who is very memorable as the leader of RIFT, desperately trying to keep Will 3.0’s operation from growing in to worldwide domination. Otherwise, “Transcendence” is overlong, poorly conceived, boring, and dunderheaded. There are so many more interesting films about technology and our reliance on it out there, “Transcendence” is just a pastiche of broad, superficial ideas compiled in to a really bad script.
Featured on the Blu-Ray and DVD combo is the five minute “What is Transcendence?” a typical behind the scenes promotional segment with interviews with the cast, explanation of the plot, and production footage. “A Singular Vision” is a three minute segment with more interviews with the cast, all of whom explain their experience working with Wally Pfister. “Guarding the Threat” is a two minute montage of clips from the film, and more emphasis on the idea of the film with no real exploration of the ideas. “The Promise of A.I.” is a three minute conversation about AI, while “It’s Me” is a one minute teaser trailer for the film. Finally, there are two one minute long teasers, one of which is “Singularity” narrated by Morgan Freeman, along the teaser “R.I.F.T.,” narrated by Kate Mara.