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Rediff.com  » Movies » Review: Johnny Depp disappoints in Transcendence

Review: Johnny Depp disappoints in Transcendence

April 18, 2014 10:00 IST

Poster of TranscendenceTranscendence is intellectually half-baked and seems too simplistic at times, writes Paloma Sharma.

Dr Will Caster and his wife and research partner Evelyn have devoted their lives towards building a machine with artificial intelligence that is both 'sentient and collective'.

Were the research successful, it could save millions of lives and reverse the ecological damage that human beings have caused.

But not everybody is happy about it.

Anti-technology extremists claim that Caster is trying to create a God which no one will be able to control. In order to stop him, the extremists attempt to kill him, but Dr Caster does not die immediately.

His slow decline to death sees Evelyn frantically scrambling for ways to save her husband until she comes to the conclusion that even though she cannot save his body, she can retain his conscious forever.

Soon enough, Dr Will Caster becomes the machine he was trying to build for so long.

However, as the artificial intelligence tries to expand itself and grow more powerful, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who is in control -- man or machine?

Johnny Depp co-produces and stars as Dr Caster but after playing a series of over-the-top characters, Depp doesn’t seem to want to even try to play someone slightly normal for a change.

Depp in Transcendence is the same guy as Depp in The Tourist, except perhaps with more academic achievements.

As difficult as it is for any sane person to believe that Johnny Depp can be anything less than absolutely, completely fabulous, it is true in this case. You do catch glimpses of Depp’s other patent characters but Depp is absent.

Rebecca Hall as Caster’s grieving widow makes the best of what she’s given to work with but is mostly left to wake up sweaty from nightmares, sob perpetually and walk down empty corridors really fast.

As Transcendence attempts to balance a tech-thriller with a love story, it does manage to produce some tender, tear-inducing moments between Depp and Hall.

However, the narration is dry, the concept recycled and the story devoid of grey areas.

Transcendence tries to ask all the right questions but in its struggle to sound smart by arriving at conclusions, it reduces everything to a war between good and evil. While preaching about the dangers of advancing technology, it uses the same to generate some pretty cool CGI effects.

Co-producer Christopher Nolan’s long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister turns director for Transcendence and as cinematographer-turned-directors usually go, the film is rife with striking visuals. However, he fails to get to the core of the man v/s machine debate and ends up portraying all technology as inherently evil.

Artificial intelligence seems to be the flavour of the season with Spike Jonzes’ Her.

Having released a month or two ago but unlike the Joaquin Phoenix starrer, Transcendence just doesn’t seem to be able to let go of the baggage it carries with respect to the dime-a-dozen sci-fi films and fiction that have dabbled in the same since the early 1900s.  

Transcendence makes for a heart-warming love story, nevertheless, and despite its slightly trying first half, it gets better post-interval.

Morgan Freeman and Paul Bettany star as friends and fellow academics to the Casters with minor yet pivotal roles.

Pfister picks an interesting premise for his first directorial venture and though the control he exercises over the technical aspects of the film is praiseworthy, the humane aspect of storytelling peeks only during the climax.

Transcendence seems too simplistic at times, but leaves you questioning the extent to which technology controls your life.

Similar to films like Equilibrium, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Invasion in building up its villains and their ideas of building a peaceful world -- one with order, without conflict, controlled by a single entity that allows only a set of thoughts to manifest -- on inhumane terms, Transcendence sets itself apart by having the courage to let the dominoes fall as they may.

Transcendence may be intellectually half-baked but it poses some serious queries about the boons and the banes of technology.

It might test your patience but if you choose to stay with the film, you will be rewarded adequately.

Rediff Rating: 

Paloma Sharma/Rediff.com in Mumbai