Published Apr 18, 2014After the promo screening, dissatisfied grumbling about the technical implausibility of Transcendence was the norm and not the exception. If the crowd craved verisimilitude on the complex subject of sentient AI, they could have stayed home and tucked into the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, streamed a Ted Talk, or watched Transcendent Man, the relatively accessible documentary on futurist Ray Kurzweil.
For those who aren't the chair of a robotics department or an intellectual heir to Isaac Asimov, and are only out for some escapist summer fun, this quick and often clever Johnny Depp vehicle won't disappoint.
The trailer led to discussion that this was Depp's first straight role in years, as opposed to a cartoonish pirate, Native American or Tim Burton creep. Not the case: Depp is only the straight-laced scientist for the first twenty-five minutes before he becomes another caricature: Transcendent Depp. Or maybe Depp Computer, The Great and Powerful.
While not Inception by any means, the screenplay is smart enough that it never becomes entirely predictable, which is the most common and offensive sin among contemporary big-tent releases.
Still, it's not without flaws. Much of the dialogue is hacky, with Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy given nothing intelligent to say or do; their sole purpose is apparently to remind viewers that first-time director Wally Pfister was the cinematographer on Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Some compositions are striking, but Pfister is trying to hit a clean single up the middle here, rather than swinging for the fences. Bonus points go to him for Depp Computer's data tendrils looking like something out of a Rust Cohle hallucination.
A nice moral ambiguity never clearly delineates whether Depp Computer or those trying to stop him/it are in the right. This is tied into an effective love story, and the two sort of collapse in on themselves in the final frames. Audiences used to far more derivative fare should be willing to forgive this.
It might not be worth rushing out to the theatre for, but there's a little something for everybody in Transcendence, and it deserves better than the dismal 14% Rotten Tomatoes rating it had at the time of this review.