Directed By: Wally Pfister

Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser, and Paul Bettany

The last couple of years haven't been terribly awesome for iconic movie star Johnny Depp.  Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger weren't exactly box office successes beloved by audiences worldwide.  In fact, they were duds that cost their respective studios hundreds of millions of dollars.  With this in mind, I wouldn't exactly have high box office hopes for a film like Transcendence.  Despite the fact that he hasn't had a particularly great batting average as of late, it's still good to see Johnny on the big screen in a performance not depicting Captain Jack Sparrow.

Will Caster (Depp) is a scientist specializing in artificial intelligence whose primary career objective is to build a self-aware being that possesses collective intelligence.  To others like Bree (Kate Mara), the leader of a group of anti-technology extremists known as Revolutionary Independence From Technology (R.I.F.T.), Caster wants to build his own god.  Adamantly opposed to this notion, Bree and her group coordinate an all-out assault on the scientific community to destroy the A.I. labs around the country and eliminate all the experts in this field.  They even shoot Will while he's making a speech at a fundraiser with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall).  Will survives the shooting, but his life span has been cut short considerably.  Though the bullet only grazes him, it's laced with a radioactive chemical known as polonium.  Courtesy of this deadly radiation, Will’s bodily organs will cease to function in four to five weeks.

Not at all interested in the idea of losing her husband, Evelyn begins leveraging what limited resources she has.  She reads up on an A.I. researcher who transferred a monkey's consciousness to a computer and sees her opportunity to act.  Leveraging a few processors from Will's own A.I. creation known as Pinn, Evelyn and their longtime friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) upload Will's consciousness to a computer in an abandoned building.  After Will passes away, this machine is all that Evelyn has left of him.  Max, however, realizes the monstrosity he's created and walks away from the A.I. version of Will.  Soon thereafter, he's captured by Bree and R.I.F.T.  Will and Evelyn, on the other hand, shore up their finances and begin developing a community out in the middle of nowhere known as Brightwood.  Meanwhile, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) and researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) are hot on Will and Evelyn's trail, if this thing can be called Will at all.

I don't have a lot of good things to say about Transcendence, but I have to give it credit for being an ambitious film.  Some big ideas about the state of our planet and the future of our technology are at the foundations of this movie.  However, Wally Pfister, a cinematographer who's collaborated with Christopher Nolan on films such as Insomnia, Inception, and The Dark Knight trilogy, drops the ball in his directorial debut Transcendence.  Big ideas are wonderful, but it takes more than that to make a great movie.  There has to be a grand yet detailed vision of a cinematic world in which these big ideas can flourish in an entertaining manner.  In essence, this is everything that's wrong with Pfister's Transcendence.  Poor Johnny.  He just can't pick a winner lately.

Conceptually, Transcendence is pretty innovative science fiction that pushes our vision of what technology can be even in this digital age.  Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and other pioneering technologies are the future.  Mankind will have to learn to use them wisely someday.  When that does happen, it will be a global phenomenon unlike anything we've seen before.  It won't be relegated to some no-name town like Brightwood.  A singular FBI agent won't be leading the charge to ensure that we haven’t crossed an ethical bound.  This will be something epic that plays out on the world's stage.  In Transcendence, Pfister's insular view of Brightwood limits him from effectively conveying the scale of what Will and Evelyn are actually doing.  His view prevents the film from playing out on a grand scale as it should be.

Though Pfister should definitely go bigger with the film, the devil is in the details.  In fact, there are numerous gaps in the narrative because he doesn't tend to the details.  For instance, uploading someone's brain to a machine is no small feat that raises numerous questions, the largest of which is whether what's uploaded is the person whom you think you've uploaded or something else altogether.  That's certainly the question here in Transcendence.  As the film progresses, Pfister doesn't give nuggets or clues to answer this looming question.  In fact, he contradicts himself on this matter in ways I won't spoil for you.  Simply put, the details surrounding Will's character just don't jibe, and it undermines the movie.

There's a certain coldness to Transcendence that doesn't help the film either.  It feels a bit too mechanical and lacks a certain human warmth.  For their part as Will and Evelyn Caster, Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall have a rather chilled romance that doesn't fully materialize on screen.  Both give emotionally guarded performances, though it's a little more understandable for Depp given that he's more machine than man for the majority of the film.  The other supporting cast members — Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara, Paul Bettany and Cillian Murphy — all offer rather one-dimensional characters that don't contribute much to the film either.

It's unfortunate that Transcendence doesn't live up to what it could have been. Given this superb cast under the direction of a man who has studied a true master of modern cinema in detail, I expected more.  As it stands, you'll need to grab some Cosmos to get through this one.  Transcendence gets a 0.09% rating.