Lowdown: Old vs. new species after a soon to die scientist uploads himself into a computer.
Transcendence is one of those science fiction movies that comes packed with a big promise. On the technical side, it sports the acting talents of the likes of Johnny Depp accompanied by Paul Bettany and Morgan Freeman. Even House of Card’s Kate Mara is there, as well as Rebecca Hall. More importantly, on the story side it deals with material of great potential and relevancy: what’s to come of humanity once the humans and computers blend even further than each of us glued to their smartphones?
As we start in some sort of a near future universe, we learn that scientists are on the verge of creating convincing artificial intelligences. If you ask Will (Depp), we’re at it already. Motivated by this exact threat, a group of terrorists (led by Mara and including Lukas Haas of Witness fame) strikes at the leading scientists in the subject matter, leaving them all dead or – in the case of Will – dying. Whether the terrorists intended to trigger the cataclysm they were warning against or not is unclear: Will and his now desperate lover (Hall) have no choice but to attempt Will's preservation through uploading his personality into their computer.
Problem is, once this is done there is no turning back. Evolution had just taken one of its biggest steps ever, leaving both sides feeling threatened. Which of the two will make it out to the end of Transcendence - the humans or the humanised computer?
As promising as Transcendence was, the same two things that built up so much promise around it end up actually hindering it. First is the rather anaemic performance from Depp, whose character does not survive the transition to the virtual as well as it should. Perhaps it’s not Depp that should be blamed but rather the script that fails to provide him with opportunities to shine, but then again none of the other actors seem to rise to the occasion. They just wander around looking grim, if anything.
On the plot side of things, Transcendence fails to deliver any shred of freshness in its message. It’s the usual warning sign that we’ve seen before in movies like Terminator, but it’s artificially (pun intended) dumbed down. Why, to point a finger, do things have to come up to a zero sum game of “us or them”?
If it’s a mediocre action thriller with some sci-fi spread on top that you’re after then, by all means, try Transcendence. If, however, you’re after serious brain indulgence wrapped up in an easy to digest package then do go for those that have been there, done that, and proved themselves. Lucky for us, there is a long list of candidates: as mentioned, there is The Terminator and Terminator 2; in the book department we have the likes of Robocalypse; and in the video game scene there’s my all time favourite, Mass effect.
As for Transcendence, it’s probably worth 2.5 out of 5 dull crabs.