At The Movies: Transcendence

It’s always a shame when a strong cast and an interesting idea come together and the end result is a really lame movie.

“Transcendence” tackles the intriguing subject of  artificial intelligence with a first-rate cast including Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman and Paul Bettany but the story goes off the rails early on and never recovers.

transcendenceDepp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a leading expert in the field of artificial intelligence.  A group of extremists who have watched enough science fiction to know A.I. is never a good idea put a poison bullet in Will in order to head off the terminators.

With only weeks to live, Will agrees to have his brain downloaded into a computer by his wife/partner Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Bettany). Max has reservations, especially once WillA.I. starts wanting access to the Internet.

Max doesn’t think this new creation is still Will and fears what will happen once it accesses the World Wide Web. Evelyn believes in Will and tosses Max out. Max is then kidnapped by the extremists, led by Bree (Kate Mara), who want to find WillA.I. and destroy it.

Evelyn and WillA.I. move to a secluded area where they can build the future. As Will’s intelligence and power grows, Evelyn begins to have second thoughts. Will comes up with cures for numerous disabilities but the catch is once he fixes what’s wrong with a person, he also links that person to his system, giving him a measure of control.

This leads to a partnership between the extremists and the government (represented by Freeman and Cillian Murphy) to shut down WillA.I.  — regardless of the consequences.

“Transcendence” marks the directorial debut for cinematographer Wally Pfister and it certainly looks good. There are many examples of clever visuals; the movie is never boring to look at.

But the movie is just too dumb for a story about intelligence — artificial or not. Everyone automatically assumes Will is up to no good but no one simply confronts him and tries to understand what he’s up to by, you know, talking to him. The decision to have Will turn the people he helps into pod people just makes things worse. I also really wanted to see Bree, an active participant in kidnapping and murder, pay some kind of price for her actions.

The film’s most stupefying moment comes at the end. I have no idea what to make of it.

 

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