“Transcendence” certainly has an impressive pedigree.
The sci-fi drama is the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, whose brooding visuals are a signature element of Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and “Inception.” Nolan is listed as the executive producer of the picture, and Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy, two of Nolan’s favorite actors, appear in minor roles.
Promising, all of it, leading one to hope for a movie in the Nolan mode: dark, gripping, challenging. But alas. It’s a promise unfulfilled.
For starters, “Transcendence” is painfully, ponderously slow. It takes a seeming eternity to get to the point where the mind of a murdered scientist (played by Johnny Depp) is uploaded into a supercomputer and then proceeds to try to take over the Internet and, by extension, the world.
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His assassination is the work of anti-technology terrorists led by a woman with crazed, kohl-emphasized eyes (played by Kate Mara with a nutty intensity that fairly screams “Look out for me! I’m dangerous!” ).
Before he’s shot, the picture must establish the brilliance of Depp’s character, Dr. Will Caster. A groundbreaking thinker on the subject of artificial intelligence, he delivers deep pronouncements on the skies-the-limit possibilities that can come from the melding of human and computer-generated brain power.
Above all, the movie must establish the relationship between Will and his equally brainy cyber-scientist wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). The key here is the couple’s mutual devotion. She’s so in love with him that after he’s mortally wounded she insists on squirting his mind into cyberspace because she can’t bear to let him go.
Sorry. Not buying it. The problem is Depp and Hall have exactly zero chemistry. Not since the 2010 snorefest “The Tourist” has Depp been party to a pairing so lacking in fizz. There’s more credible chemistry between Hall’s character and a fellow scientist (Paul Bettany). He’s “Transcendence’s” conscience, worrying that this brain-uploading business could have dangerous (and all too predictable) consequences.
“Transcendence” traffics in a lot of interesting ideas, but does so in unoriginal ways. Depp’s voice from cyberspace, unnaturally calm and faintly godlike in its omniscience, is reminiscent of the cadences of Stanley Kubrick’s HAL 9000, while his omnipresent image peering from a multitude of computer screens is very Big Brotherish.
Hovering over everything is “Frankenstein” and its cautionary warning about the perils that arise when science recklessly tampers with the natural order of things. Dr. Frankenstein shrieked “it’s alive!” when he animated his unnatural creation. Sadly, “Transcendence” stays moribund from start to finish.
Soren Andersen: firstname.lastname@example.org