As futuristic thrillers about the rise of the machines go, Transcendence is somewhat elevated by a classy cast and smoothly integrated CGI. But it lacks any genuine philosophical heft. Maybe (well, probably) that is by design, but I kept wishing it would delve a little more into the questions it sort of raises about the possibility of maintaining human consciousness after the destruction of the body.
But like a lot of Hollywood science fiction, it only teases the more interesting matters before devolving into explosions and car chases and the like. It ends ups feeling like a not-quite-baked updating of the Terminator movies or the 40-year-old Yul Brynner movie Westworld.
This time around Johnny Depp stars as brilliant Dr. Will Caster, an artificial intelligence researcher who - in the film’s promising early minutes - is assassinated by a neo-Luddite group called R.I.F.T. (led by bottle-blonde Kate Mara) opposed to his research. But his death isn’t immediate ( he’s only grazed by a bullet laced with polonium, so he dies slowly of radiation poisoning), giving his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), and fellow scientist best friend, Max (Paul Bettany), time to encode his consciousness and upload it onto a hard drive before he dies.
And just before the R.I.F.T. insurgents manage to break in and trash the lab, Evelyn sets Will’s spirit free to roam the Internet, to learn anything and everything and eventually to lead her to establish a fortress of solitude in the desert where digital Will can continue his work. Meanwhile Max, who had misgivings from the start, and even wonders whether what they’ve loosed on the Net really is Will or just some kind of power-hungry simulation, is captured and turned by R.I.F.T., who, it turns out, took their inspiration from his writings.
But is it too late to stop the runaway machine?
Because the film ends at the beginning and tells its story in flashback, there’s not that much tension in Transcendence. Aside from some of the textural details (Depp’s accent - British? Mid-Atlantic?), there’s hardly anything to ponder. Artificial intelligence is here. Human stupidity also seems ascendant. And no doubt there’s an interesting movie to be plotted along those lines. But for all its pretension, Transcendence isn’t it. It’s just a big dumb popcorn muncher.
85 Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Clifton Collins Jr. Director: Wally Pfi ster Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi action and violence, bloody images, brief strong language, sensuality Running time: 119 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/18/2014
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