Release date: April 18, 2014
Directed by: Wally Pfister
Written by: Jack Paglen
Johnny Depp's latest flick wants to be a think piece. In fact there are a lot of interesting philosophical questions, but it's so slow and methodically paced that by the time it makes its point, it's doubtful you'll still care what it's trying to say.
As Dr. Will Caster, Depp is a brilliant and eccentric neuroscientist on the brink of fully realizing the creation of a self aware artificial intelligence mapping system that functions similarly to the human brain. Some people think Will's creation is a threat to humanity and God, so they try and take him out. Believing Will's mind was a gift to humanity, his wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) decides to upload his conscious, merging with the A.I.
When Will becomes a fully functioning, self aware, artificial intelligence, he starts to become more powerful, building a fortress in the desert under the veil that he is trying to better humanity. Of course, it all raises questions about whether or not it really is Will, or just the A.I. using his image and memories in order to manipulate those he loves into building an army that may or may not want to transcend humanity into a new era of existence.
At the heart of it, it's all fascinating stuff. There are some really interesting questions about how to better humanity and the morality of creating our own Gods. But it's also, unfortunately, really boring. It's unpredictable and thought provoking, but first time director Wally Pfister, never allows the big moments to be as big as they need to be, so it's less of a roller coaster and more of a slow Sunday drive. Making it worse is everyone is playing the emotions so low that there is no emotional connectivity after all the big heady reveals.
Depp has struggled a bit lately and his role here is a welcome departure. It's nice to know he is able to pull off a character without having to rely on Disney's extensive costume and makeup department. He gets to do a bit of acting here, something that pays off when a lot of his screen time is just his voice. Unfortunately, as the A.I. develops, it too realizes that it is better off utilizing the face of Johnny Depp and plasters his digitized face all over the place.
The supporting cast is great, but most of them look bored, too. Morgan Freeman is a fabulous actor and always a welcome presence, but he doesn't look like he's having much fun. Then there is Rebecca Hall, who as Will's wife needs to be a lightning rod of emotion to keep us connected to Will after he transcends. But she seems so vacant in most of her scenes that it never allows the audience to truly get on board with all of the erratic decisions she makes based on her love for Will. Other actors are either wasted, Paul Bettany; or completely miscast, Kate Mara.
The lingering problem with the film may stem from the producing credit of Christopher Nolan. First time director Wally Pfister, an Oscar winning cinematographer for his stunning work on "Inception", who has worked with Nolan for years, seems hell bent on mimicking Nolan's pacing and style. But as intriguing as the plot feels, it never gets as interesting or exciting as the premise teases. It always "feels" like a Nolan movie, but never it's own beast. Maybe Pfister is someday able to make the transition the director's chair, but he'll need to cut his own path rather than walk the one laid by Nolan.
In the end, "Transcendence" will raise some intriguing questions and spark some fun debate during those post-movie analytics. It's a smart movie, that never snubs its nose at the audience or dumbs it down, but ultimately a bit of a snooze.
Running time: 1 hour 59 mins
MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality