Transcendence (Warner Bros.)
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality.
Starring Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Morgan Freeman, Clifton Collins Jr.
Written by Jack Paglen.
Directed by Wally Pfister.
What happens when the machines take over? What if we ARE the machines? This is the stuff decent science fiction is made of, and the premise for Transcendence, a film about a man who injects his consciousness into a computer.
Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a brilliant scientist who has developed a huge computer system capable of artificial intelligence (AI). He is assisted by his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and colleague Dr. Max Waters (Paul Bettany). One day, a group of anti-AI activists, led by a woman named Bree (Kate Mara) attacks Caster and other cybernetic innovators in an attempt to rid the world of an overdependence on technology. Caster is shot, but the bullet only grazes him.
The bullet that missed Caster’s vital organs was laced with atomic matter, which dooms the celebrated scientist to death. With only a few weeks to live, Will, Evelyn and Max decide to inject Caster’s consciousness into the AI mainframe and preserve his mind. After Will dies, the computer awakens and the new Cyber-Caster begins to take over. The Caster 2.0 version soon uses its superior intellect to make Evelyn wealthy via online trades in the stock market, allowing her to buy a remote desert town where a new high-tech underground facility is rapidly constructed. Inside the complex, Cyber Caster’s intellect grows, allowing him to develop advanced nanotechnology (tiny robots) that allows him to create a super-race of workers and soldiers that do his bidding, in order to build his Utopia. Although happy to have the computerized version of Will around, Evelyn begins to feel uneasy about expanding her relationship with a machine.
Meanwhile, Bree’s group as kidnapped Max until they convince him that the artificial intelligence has made life complicated for the human race, seen as increasingly obsolete by Will. Bree and Max eventually partner with government agents and one of Will’s former colleagues, Dr. Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) to “kill” the master computer – which will require shutting down the global power grid, not to mention all of the computers in the world. Will 2.0 does not take this well, especially since he has “grown” an organic version of his former self to compliment his consciousness, in order to be with Evelyn again. The resurrected Will stands all-powerful against a small army in a climactic battle of wits and brute force.
Transcendence is a visually compelling film, and the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, known as a great cinematographer for his work with Chris Nolan in the recent Batman trilogy and other films. The special effects and makeup are also more than adequate, but Pfister’s film would have been a little more interesting if not for several long gaps of dull dystopia in the second act, which may be more the fault of the story and screenwriting. Sure, there are thought-provoking messages about humanity and its dependence on technology, but most of that is mired within a romantic tragedy between Evelyn and the computerized version of Will.
The idea of a moral struggle over whether artificial intelligence ought to be pursued also seems a little one-sided in Transcendence – with a simple “no” for response. It would seem more appropriate to look a little deeper.
To check out Jenniffer Wardell's review of Transcendence, click here.