Johnny Depp’s name to any movie is going to land an audience. His last few films haven’t quite draw the “Pirates” level crowds, however. The directorial debut of Wally Pfister, the cinematographer of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight” saga “Transcendence” doesn’t look to mark much of a change in that trend.
“Transcendence” stars Depp as Dr. Will Caster and Rebecca Hall as his wife, Dr. Evelyn Caster, a pair of artificial intelligence scientists working to bridge the gap between human and artificial intelligence. When Will is attacked by a group of anti-technology terrorists, their research is the only hope to save Will’s brilliant mind. With the assistance of their friend and colleague Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany), they work to save Will, but in the end their efforts may seem in vain as the results prove to have consequences beyond their imaginings. The AI life that seems to stem from Will, while providing breakthrough after breakthrough in multiple fields of science, seems to be growing more out of control, until the same terrorist group, and the US government, decide to take action, with results that I never saw coming.
When trailers and ads for “Transcendence” started popping up, I was intrigued by the thought of this kind of science. However, I was apparently not paying enough attention to how it would all play out. The post-technology apocalypse, similar to the myth of Y2K in late 1999, is explored in some context as the machine grew beyond its limits and spread itself worldwide.
The problem with “Transcendence” is its subject material. It’s a deep, imaginative idea, but we are left with some major questions via plot holes that are never filled in, as the story gets bigger and forgets to answer some of the questions it brings up in establishing the world and the story. It gets too big, too fast, and leaves too much time to long bouts of repetitive plot in a movie that was just a little too long.
Depp, Hall and Bettany all provide performances worthy of the caliber attached to their name. Even with Depp performing on a computer screen much of the time, he portrays Will’s AI personality with eerie clarity as to just exactly went wrong with the couple’s plan. Hall’s devoted wife goes comatose pretty quickly, although her bouts of emotion are the best scenes.
For all the movie seems to stay grounded, there are some pretty nifty effects that occur from the nanotechnology breakthrough courtesy of Will. The cloud of dust mites, which create a way too easy break from death for many characters, are the catalyst for many characters realization that not all of Will made the translation to AI life.
The film explores ideas that are present in our everyday life, the technology growing until it controls the population, not the other way around. Looking towards the future, it asks how much we are willing to sacrifice for all those breakthroughs, when it may be the destruction of humanity itself.
“Transcendence” sits on a solid C perch for me. It has too many plot holes and lengthy times of nothing to be a perfect movie, but the ideas are solid and the actors are too. It’s a movie to check out, but not one that is going to make any waves anywhere, with anyone. “Transcendence” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, strong language and sensuality.