In the directorial debut of Academy Award winning cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” “The Dark Knight”), Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp (“Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Finding Neverland”) goes beyond the barriers of reality and into the digital domain in “Transcendence.”
Depp is Dr. Will Caster, an innovative and prominent figure in the field of artificial intelligence. Caster and his wife Evelyn, played by Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Christina Barcelona,” “The Prestige”) believe that artificial intelligence could be the solution to the ails of the world but Will’s research leads him to a monumental but dangerous discovery.
“The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, mathematicians and engineers pales in comparison to the most basic A.I. Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence“-Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster
Caster’s theory about Transcendence is met with support from his colleagues, including his friend Dr. Max Waters, played by Paul Bettany (“The Young Victoria,” “Iron Man”), but simultaneously makes him a target.
On the day the Casters are giving a speech, artificial intelligence laboratories across the country were simultaneously attacked by a syndicate dedicated to liberation from technology called R.I.F.T.: Radical Independence from Technology. A R.I.F.T. operative even goes as far as shooting Dr. Caster will an irradiated bullet that cuts his life span down to a few weeks.
Evelyn is going through the motions of settling her husband’s affairs but she is not prepared to let him go, so she comes up with a high-risk/high-reward idea.
“His brain is a pattern of electrical signals. We can download his consciousness. We can save him“-Rebecca Hall as Evelyn Caster
Evelyn enlists Max’s help to make Will’s idea of Transcendence possible by downloading his memories and consciousness onto a hard-drive before his body shuts down, and the process is successful but with a few unforeseen developments.
“I need to expand, I need more power. Get me online“-Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster
Will, now a sentient artificial intelligence, is now capable of fulfilling his and Evelyn’s dream of healing the world’s ills but R.I.F.T., including its leader Bree, played by Kate Mara (“127 Hours”), feels that Evelyn, Max and Will have crossed a line that shouldn’t be tampered with.
With Will at a higher state of being, he is now capable of altering the global landscape at an unprecedented level, but his actions could spell the end of humanity and faces opposition from R.I.F.T., the FBI and his colleagues, including Joseph Tagger, played by Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman (“Along Came a Spider,” “Unforgiven”).
Wally Pfister’s directorial debut features stunning cinematography but unfortunately, “Transcendence” does not live up to its name. The screenplay, written by Jack Paglen, features so many cues from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” that whatever originality the film wants to aspire to, does not come to fruition.
Pfister emphasizes the visual so much so, that the narrative does not compel the audience in the way that it should. The idea of mankind against technology is somehow lost on the audience and there is nothing to evoke any type of stimulation.
Depp is nothing more than a disembodied voice in this film. He is only onscreen for a collective total of at least 30 minutes but he is just a disembodied voice; it is as if he is phoning the performance in.
The cast including Hall, Bettany, Mara, Freeman and Cilian Murphy (“Red Eye”), are not exactly in top form in this feature as well.
Jack Paglen authors an interesting story, but to the common moviegoer it feels eerily familiar and lacks the surprise of anything different or transcendent if you will.
Pfister tried to get by with stunning visuals in his debut as a director but at the conclusion of “Transcendence” it feels as if he needs to learn from this and grow because it feels quite amateur-ish. This is his first outing as a director, so it is a little unfair to go into this film and expect something professional but considering Pfister is a long-time collaborator with Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight Trilogy”), who produced this feature, professional with the promise of potential is something to look for.
“Transcendence” is a film that does not go beyond any type of expectation, especially with Johnny Depp at the lead. This is a movie that will unfortunately, disappoint.