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'Transcendence' review: Squandering intelligence

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"Transcendence" will have special 8pm screenings starting Thursday with its official release going nationwide on Friday.

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Wally Pfister, a Chicago-born cinematographer with over 20 years of experience and a frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan, slides into the director's chair for the first time with "Transcendence." The most exciting aspect of "Transcendence" was that it seemed like it was just physically demanding enough to spark whatever creative juices Johnny Depp has been lacking the past decade or so he's seemingly just been drifting through the motions to cash a paycheck. However, "Transcendence" manages to keep that redundant trend alive and turns what could have been an interesting concept into run of the mill fluff.

Depp plays Will Caster, a doctor who creates a sentient form of artificial intelligence. A renegade group of hackers who disagree with Will's technological beliefs confront and shoot him. Will survives what is thought to be an assassination attempt, but later realizes the bullet gives him radiation poisoning and is on borrowed time. Will's vision won't become a reality unless he somehow becomes part of his programming, which is where his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max (Paul Bettany) come in. But what begins as the only option for survival becomes an unstoppable quest for expansion.

You'd think that approaching a character that goes through what seems like a complex story arc of being this extremely intelligent mind who becomes sick, faces death, and then finds new life as this computer generated consciousness would result in this really exceptional and vastly emotional performance. Somehow Johnny Depp makes the Will Caster role incredibly boring. Depp shows little to no emotion the entire film and despite getting top billing feels like he gets less screen time than Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany. Depp lacks whatever passion he once had that made him eccentric and captivating in the past.

Once Will is online, he convinces Evelyn to purchase the small town of Brightwood where they begin to rebuild. After a short two years, nanotechnology becomes the company's policy to fix everything. They begin healing people off the street whether they're blind or stuck in a wheelchair; their ailments are all miraculously cured. Damaged cells are repaired and can even regenerate, but in reality it's as if Will is building a hybrid army. In the grand scheme of things, quantum processors and a field full of solar panels doesn't seem like that much of an advancement from where we are now.

Will is stuck in this constant loop of evolving while Evelyn suddenly begins to feel betrayed and violated. Then there's Max's side of the equation with the mindset that this technology has gone too far and it needs to meet its end. It's a copy and paste command taken to the absolute extreme.

"Transcendence" is able to boast some extraordinary cinematography, but it lacks a heartfelt performance from anyone in the cast. This science fiction thriller is like a really unpolished, chunky puree that combines "The Lawnmower Man," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," and the ending to "The World's End."


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