PG-13, 119 minutes
A box office and critical bomb, “Transcendence” is one of those movies that doesn’t suffer from a lack of trying. This big, ambitious sci-fi thriller starring Johnny Depp posits a world in which artificial intelligence is threatening to take over, with promises of infinite knowledge and immortality – as long as humans are willing to give up control and subvert their free will.
Depp plays Will Caster, a brilliant scientist who wants to build a sentient computer. He is forced to make himself the subject of his experiment when he is fatally wounded by anti-technology terrorists. With the help of his wife (Rebecca Hall) and reluctant best friend (Paul Bettany), he uploads his consciousness into a super computer.
The recomposed Will quickly makes breakthrough discoveries in medicine, energy and nanotechnology. He oversees the construction of a utopia-like town in the desert, and begins conscripting an army of henchmen controlled by his technology.
There are a lot of huge, thoughtful ideas in this movie. The screenplay by Jack Paglan had languished on the Black List of promising but unproduced scripts for years. But first-time director Wally Pfister is clearly out of his depth, and lacks the storytelling chops to translate such a complex narrative with overarching themes.