More artificial than intelligent, this futuristic cyber-thriller freezes up so much you'll want to hit Control-Alt-Delete. Though Transcendence came in No. 4 at this weekend's box office, it pulled in $11 million compared to Rio 2, Heaven Is for Real and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, all of which saw box office totals of over $20 million. Johnny Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a rock-star researcher who works to create a sentient computer capable of human emotion.
When anti-technology extremists poison him with radiation, terminally ill Caster uploads his conscious mind into a supercomputer with the help of his wife/lab partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend/colleague Max (Paul Bettany). But you know how these mad scientist things go, and soon Caster's brain wants to take over the world, bwahahaha! The directorial debut of Wally Pfister (cinematographer for Inception and The Dark Knight franchise), Transcendence proves a surprising bore that never comes out of sleep mode. Here's why:
1. If You've Seen the Trailer, You've Seen the Movie: Don't expect anything unexpected, since the preview basically lays out the entire story arc. The plot cobbles elements from many other sci-fi flicks, including Frankenstein, Demon See, and Lawnmower Man.
2. The Movie Tries and Fails to Portray a Love Story for the Digital Age: Evelyn remains devoted to Caster, even after he morphs into a virtual hubby. Spike Jonze's Her covered this kind of cyber relationship in a much more elegant and engaging way. Plus, the giant monitor with a blank-faced Depp watching Evelyn eat and sleep is just creepy, not romantic.
3. Cillian Murphy Is Wasted: As FBI agent Buchanan, Cillian Murphy mostly stands around looking concerned, but not as concerned as we are that he doesn't do more. And where are the other agents who should also be tracking Caster? When someone finally says, "We need to call Washington" (ya think?), the line earns unintended laughs.
4. Not even God Can Save the Flat Dialogue: And by "God," we mean Morgan Freeman, who plays computer expert Joseph Tagger. The poor guy gets saddled with lines like "I've never seen anything like it!" and "It will be the end of mankind as we know it."
5. Technophobia Is "Complicated:" Kate Mara plays Bree, a member of Revolutionary Independence From Technology (RIFT), the group that targets Caster and his work. With her tousled bleached hair, thick eyeliner, and black leather jacket, Bree looks more like Avril Lavigne than a neo-Luddite terrorist. Also, what kind of name is Bree for a radical?
6. A Leap in Time Means a Leap in Logic—and Loss of Momentum: The story jumps forward two years as Caster masterminds the construction of a sprawling, desert-set compound, where he taps into worldwide tech systems and starts creating human-computer hybrids. But the FBI and RIFT were already in pursuit, so what the heck have they been doing for two years?
7. Water, Water Everywhere: Sure, Pfister knows how to compose beautiful frames, but in Transcendence, his obsession with extreme slo-mo close-ups of raindrops and dewdrops becomes almost comical. Yes, water plays a small part in the plot, but sheesh, we get it already! All that liquid makes us want to pee—or drink.
8. The Ending is a Disappointing Mess: Without giving too much away, the tension-free climax relies on a familiar plot device, while the uninvolving romance takes an eye-rolling turn for the maudlin. Plus, the flashback structure with bookending scenes is completely unnecessary. The Transcendence script should've been defragged and rebooted.