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Movie review: Transcendence

Johnny Depp finally plays an actual person (sort of) in Wally Pfister’s ambitious directorial debut

April 23, 2014 | 12:38 p.m. CST

Transcendence: A machine that has the power to analyze and create a collective intelligence. This is a concept any viewer needs to understand to understand Transcendence.

Johnny Depp, in his first non-caricature role in a long time, stars as Will Caster, an artificial intelligence researcher whose radical research and beliefs have attracted the attention of RAID, a group of anti-artificial intelligence extremists. In a terrorist attack, the group kills many researchers, and fatally wounds Will Caster with a radiation-tipped bullet.

Caster only has a month to live. His wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is distraught and can’t bear the thought of living life without him. She decides to continue one of the killed researcher’s experiments and “uploads” Will’s thoughts, memories, and essentially his brain onto their previous artificial intelligence project PINN with her friend Max (Paul Bettany).

It works. But is it really Will in there? Or just a computer that took on his characteristics? That’s the question viewers are consumed by for the rest of the film. Predictably, Will gets out of control trying to teach the world transcendence. The computer infiltrates the intelligence of the Internet and within two years are curing people of all maladies, and even keeping them from death with his new nanotechnology while Evelyn happily lives with Will’s “big brother” image and presence in their expansive laboratory. RAID, along with the FBI, Max and former friend and researcher Joseph (Morgan Freeman) try to save the world before Will makes everyone into his zombie-robots.

This film, directed by Wally Pfister (who’s Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer) is ambitious. Transcendence tries to combine suspense, drama and action into one genre. It almost succeeds, but the script by first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen has holes and the dialogue is often cliché. Will Caster actually says, “I need more power!” The film does follow the plot tropes of a sci-fi drama, but does add more to the conversation about medical ethics, artificial intelligence and even under what circumstances should someone still be “alive.”

However, the film is beautiful and the amount of CGI used in the film is perfect visually.

Transcendence is expected to be Depp’s fourth box office bomb, but is the best film he’s made in years. The film is predictable at times, but still keeps the viewer guessing. But viewers who come into the film better have their thinking caps on; it seems slow-paced, but it’s not. It’s definitely worth seeing, although maybe not on the big screen.

Vox Rating: V V

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